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Vital Stories

New Year, New Reads: The Top 10 Blogs to Read As We Enter 2021

Catch up on ten of our top blogs of 2020 and stay tuned for new blogs coming soon!

Vital Strategies

Vital Stories —our blog that offers a behind-the-scenes look into our work to improve public health systems worldwide—serves as a platform to connect with readers and share critical public health information. With the beginning of a new year, we’re excited to feature leading voices and interesting stories that inspire, challenge, and highlight the most pressing public health issues. Catch up on ten of our top blogs of 2020 and stay tuned for new blogs on major public health news and Vital Strategies projects and initiatives coming soon!

Meet Seven Women Leading the Fight Against NCDs and Road Injuries in their Cities

Women leaders are taking charge and tackling the world’s most pressing public health issues. On International Women’s Day, we honored seven women mayors fighting against noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and road injuries in their cities. Mayor Rosy Senanayake of Colombo, Sri Lanka is making healthy eating the norm in Colombo by establishing new nutritional and hygiene standards. Mayor Bijal Patel of Ahmedabad, India is working with her team to address the prevalence of NCD risk factors including smoking and unhealthy diets.

Pictured from left to right: Mayor Rosy Senanayake of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot of Chicago, United States, Mayor Soham el Wardini of Dakar Senegal, Mayor London Breed of San Francisco, United States, Mayor Bijal Patel of Ahmedabad, India, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum of Mexico City, Mexico,

10 Campaigns Launch on World No Tobacco Day to Reach Millions and Protect Youth from Tobacco Use

While much of our attention in 2020 was focused on COVID-19, another epidemic continues to kill 8 million people a year. Unless global action is taken, tobacco will kill as many as a billion people this century. On World No Tobacco Day on May 31, 2020, Vital Strategies launched over a dozen campaigns and initiatives focused on this year’s theme: protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use. Take a look at the various campaigns from countries around the world including Turkey, Ukraine, and Mexico.

In Ukraine, advocates hang posters outside the Rada at a press briefing on tobacco control legislation Draft Law

COVID-19 Brings a Bloom in Bike Lanes: Latin American Cities Exchange Best Practices

Although COVID-19 has restricted movement with stay-at-home-orders and lockdowns, Latin American cities have adapted to these changes by expanding bike lanes. Through the Partnership for Healthy Cities global network, cities are learning from each other and supporting urban mobility and road safety. Since 2017, the city of Fortaleza has been a trailblazer in improving its bicycle infrastructure and creating a corporate bike-share. After the pandemic hit, the city has considered expanding its system, learning from the city of Peru’s innovative ideas on bike-sharing. Mexico City, Guadalajara, Santo Domingo, and Bogota are following suit, expanding bike lanes and bike-sharing programs and supporting cycling as a safe mode of transport.

Fortaleza, Brazil: Some cities use traffic cones to mark temporary bike lanes.

Meet the 2020 Healthy Food Policy Fellows

Launched in March 2020, Vital Strategies’ Healthy Food Policy Fellowship aims to create a pool of future leaders to bridge current research gaps and contribute to healthier food environments in six focus countries. The Food Policy team’s first cohort of awardees were Claudia Nieto in Mexico, Stephanie Whiteman in Barbados and Shajoe Lake in Jamaica. We learned more about their educational journeys, and how the fellowship will play a critical part in their research.

From left to right: Claudia Nieto, Stephanie Whiteman and Shajoe Lake

Responding to Pandemics—Lessons Learned From COVID-19

Like many events, our VitalTalks speaker series looked a little different this year. Adjusting to a new virtual platform we brought together experts from the Prevent Epidemics team at Resolve To Save Lives team to discuss their past experiences responding to outbreaks and lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers Amanda McClelland, Senior Vice President; Dr. Christopher Lee, Senior Technical Advisor; Dr. Emmanuel Agogo, Nigeria Country Representative; and  Dr. Immaculate Nabukenya, Senior Project Manager at the Infectious Disease Institute, stressed the importance of trust and communication, global cooperation and building capacity at the local and subnational level. Watch the full discussion below:

With Candles, Silence, and Sorrow, Cities Commit to Action in The Name of 1.35 Million Lives Lost to Road Crashes Each Year

On World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, cities around the world honored the lives of victims and their families and pledged to protect people on the roads. Stretching from Accra, Ghana to Bogotá, Colombia communities observed the day through various activities and events. In Kampala, Uganda community members recognized the day with a painting of a new crosswalk for students attending a nearby school. Residents of Cali, Colombia paid tribute to road traffic victims with an art installation containing shoes, helmets, motorcycle gloves, and other objects of remembrance. With over 1.35 million lives lost each year on the world’s road, road safety remains a critical part of our public health initiatives and policies as we head into 2021.

Mayor of Accra Mohammed Adjei Sowah places a candle in remembrance of lives lost from road crashes.

What We Can’t See Can Harm Us: Mental Health And Air Pollution

As air pollution rates continually rise, affecting over 90% of the world, its effects go far beyond our physical health. We sat down with Vivian Pun, air pollution epidemiologist in the Environmental Health division, to discuss her research and learn more about the relationship between air pollution and mental health. Vivian’s research, Association of Ambient Air Pollution with Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms in Older Adults, was one of the first studies to observe such a relationship. The study finds that long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) was significantly associated with moderate-to-severe anxiety symptoms and depressive symptoms. Improving air quality is critical as is raising awareness and addressing mental health stigma.

Vivian Pun, air pollution epidemiologist in the Environmental Health division at Vital Strategies

Advancing LGBTI Rights in Peru Through Civil Registration Reform

Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) offer a host of benefits for citizens, including access to health care. However, CRVS systems are not always equitable and many communities do not have access to them. In June 2020, Vital Strategies launched a new project “Accelerating Registration Equality for LGBTI People in Peru” to ensure the country’s LGBTI community has access to civil registration and identity documents. Through technical assistance to three civil society organizations, Vital Strategies is supporting advocacy efforts to remove legal and administrative barriers that prevent LGBTI people from accessing identity documents or registering vital events. The CRVS team sat down with implementing partners Ximena Salazar, Gabriela Mariño, and Juan Manuel Castillo to learn more about the barriers to civil registration that LGBTI people in Peru face, and how COVID-19 has exacerbated existing problems.

Implementing partners Juan Manuel Castillo, Xiemna Salazar, and Gabriela Mariño

A Dream Come True: Pairing Art with Public Health to Save Lives in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is using art to inform residents of the risks of COVID-19 and encouraging them to follow public health measures. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Mural Arts Foundation, with support from the Partnership for Healthy Cities, launched a public art campaign that promotes safe physical distancing and COVID-19 prevention. The project places brightly colored posters and “space pads”, temporary vinyl floor tiles around essential businesses and other highly populated areas. We sat down with Cuban-Egyptian painter and street artist Symone Salib, a participant in the project, to learn more about her work with Mural Arts and the role art plays in advancing public health action during COVID-19.

Depicting members of her community, Symone Salib’s artwork underscores the role of the individual in advancing public health action.

How 2020 Transformed Public Health and Ways We Can Move Forward Stronger

The pandemic has touched every single person in the world– spreading over the globe and taking the lives of nearly 1.6 million people. Although vaccines are a cause for hope, the virus has highlighted the deep cracks that exist in our health, social and economic systems. We must take the time to address these disparities, reflect on what we’ve learned, and reimagine public health in a way that protects and saves lives. We’ve outlined seven lessons learned from COVID-19 and how we can move forward to create a more equitable and safer world.

Preventive public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 forced the majority of Athenians to stay at home, yet the streets were far from empty. The Hellenic Liver Patient Association “Prometheus,” in collaboration with the Municipality of Athens and civil society partners, responded by launching the Streetwork Project to support socially excluded communities.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.