Quick overview of work on urban health

  • There is a well-established global trend towards urbanisation - the World Health Organisation estimates that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in towns and cities and one in three urban dwellers will live in slums, a total of one billion people worldwide.
  • Urban living can provide new opportunities, such as different leisure options, new relationships, anonymity and alternate ways of organising households. However, living in low-income urban settlements can intensify certain risk factors for ill health and introduce new hazards.
  • Migration to, and residence in, low-income urban settlements is associated with particular health challenges for women and girls, including:
    • communicable diseases such as HIV
    • sexual and reproductive ill-health
    • non-communicable diseases related to poor diet, tobacco and a sedentary lifestyles
    • the mental health burden arising from the stresses of surviving on the economic margins in large cities characterised by high levels of crime and violence, and more fragmented access to social support. 
  • Donors and governments have made political commitments to tackle ill-health amongst the poorest women. However, these commitments and targets tend to be siloed and to pay insufficient attention to intensified urbanisation and the urban environment.
  • Interventions that address the health of women and girls in low-income urban areas should:
    • focus on community involvement, including engaging men, and see the urban poor as change agents
    • attempt to address health problems in a holistic way, and go beyond health sector responses to also address the social determinants of ill health, such as cash transfers, equity-focused urban planning, income redistribution and law and policy reform
    • implement careful targeting in the provision of integrated services for women and girls living in low-income urban areas to avoid marginalisation, as women are not a homogenous group.
  • This research, being undertaken by IDS and partners in Kenya, South Africa and India, seeks to better understand what approaches to improving the health of women and girls are working in these settings, as well as efforts to tackle emerging and significant health conditions such as injury, violence, cardiovascular disease and neuropsychiatric disorders