Kobe, Days 2 and 3: From Questions to Answers — The need for local leadership

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This post is by Neil Bomberg, NLC’s Program Director for Human Development and Public Safety.

What appeared to be a conference without answers was rapidly transformed on the second day into a conference with significant answers on how governments can work toward improving the health of their residents and citizens.  The answers, the conferees agreed, lie with local elected officials, including mayors and city council members, and local governments, especially cities and towns.  There was agreement that:

* Local elected leaders can act as role models and champions for walking, cycling, active lifestyles and community designs that support these activities;

* Local elected leaders can enable collaboration between sectors by working with their city departments to develop an integrated urban health strategy;

* Cities and towns have the capacity to partner with their citizens and community-based organizations, as well as the private sector, so that local health care professionals provide health care to all citizens, share information and educate all residents in procedures for maintaining their health, and gather and distribute relevant data necessary for good and sound policymaking.

As the second day progressed, national leaders and mayors and city council members came together in increasingly smaller sessions to discuss the ways in which they are using their powers to lead, enable collaboration, and work with citizens to address citizen health, whether in El Paso, Texas, where the city is working with latino youth to address obesity and unhealthy eating; in Harare, Zimbabwe, where the local government is attempting to reduce substantially traffic related accidents by improving roads; in Male, Maldives, where the government is confronting daily the impact of global warming which threatens water supplies; or Udine, Italy, where the mayor is responding to the plight of Roma who are among the poorest and least able to access services within the community.

On the final day of the Global Forum, the focus once again was on political commitment and leadership. Discussions focused on environmental challenges, ways of reducing violence, and the important of political will in addressing the health and well-being of all residents.  Each of these topics provoked a spirited debate among the delegates on the challenges that local elected leaders are facing.

Then came the formal closing of the conference, as a group of mayors took the stage to present the three key principles of the Call to Action:

1. as a first priority, local governments must focus on uncovering and responding to urban health inequities to ensure that all residents have access to adequate and appropriate health care and services;

2. show leadership by including health in all urban policies through intersectoral responses to the issue of community health; and

3. ensure broad community participation in urban policy and planning.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan addressed the crowd and reinforced the need for governments at all levels to take the lead:  “Good urban health governance helps ensure that opportunities and advantages are more evenly distributed and that access to health care is more evenly distributed.”

Finally, the day closed with the global launch of the joint UN-HABITAT/WHO report, Hidden Cities: unmasking and overcoming health inequities in urban settings.  To download the report and to see pictures and personal stories from cities around the world, please go to www.hiddencities.org.

After a fruitful three days of inspiration for assembled leaders, the challenge for the delegates now is what action they will take to turn their cities into healthy cities.

For highlights and a recap of all three days and outcomes, please visit www.gfuh.org.