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February 2, 2018

In Cities Worldwide, A Reliable Partner Against Preventable Cancers

According to the World Health Organization, one third of the 8.8 million annual deaths from cancer are due to five leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and alcohol use. This figure is made even more tragic because each of these underlying risk factors can be effectively mitigated through smart, targeted public health policies and interventions.

This year, on World Cancer Day, The Partnership for Health Cities joins the global health community in recognizing victims and survivors of cancer worldwide, while maintaining a commitment to our ongoing efforts to help make cities around the world more healthy, equitable places, free from preventable cancers.

The Partnership is a two-year project led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his role as World Health Organization (WHO) Global NCD Ambassador. The idea is to help deploy the unique power of cities at a time when a majority of the world’s population live in urban areas. This global network of 54 cities, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership WHO and Vital Strategies, works to enable cities around the world to deliver a high-impact policy or programmatic intervention to reduce non-communicable disease (NCD) risk factors in their communities.

Of the ten proven interventions that cities can choose to address as part of the Partnership, four of them directly address leading behavioral and dietary risks that lead to cancer. These four interventions focus on creating smoke-free cities; banning tobacco advertising; reducing sugary drink consumption; and creating more walkable, bikeable, livable streets. Many of the cities in The Partnership have chosen to address one of these policy interventions.

Five cities are working to reduce the consumption of sugary drinks. Last November, two of Colombia’s largest cities, Cali and Medelín, announced that they are pursuing strategies to improve the diets of school children by getting schools to get rid of junk food—amid alarming obesity rates. In Cali alone, 30 percent of school-aged children are obese.

Nine cities have taken up the challenge of making their streets more walkable and bikeable. One example is Guadalajara, Mexico, where the city’s initiative includes outreach to city residents about using existing facilities in the extensive downtown Via RecreActiva, along with plans for new bike lanes and parking. 

Of course, tobacco control has the potential to directly and drastically reduce the prevalence of cancer involve tobacco control. And to that end, an astonishing 11 of the 54 cities are implementing anti-tobacco public health initiatives. Lung cancer is the most common kind of cancer worldwide. Tobacco accounts for more than eight million deaths worldwide every year—about one million of them from exposure to second-hand smoke. To address this, nine of the Partnership cities are working to make public areas smoke-free and two will limit tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS).

For example, Kigali, Rwanda held a workshop to design their smoke-free project; established a technical committee; and developed both draft smoke-free guidelines and a draft research protocol for baseline evaluation. The Partnership’s smoke-free initiative in the Rwandan capital had an inspiring side-effect on national policy. Amid growing concerns about the dangers of water-pipe tobacco called shisha, especially on young people, Partnership Program Officer Joseph Ngamije raised the topic with Mayor Pascal Nyamulinda at a meeting about the city’s Partnership initiative. The Mayor Immediately reached for World Health Organization research on the shisha and then expressed his strong concerns to the national government. Rwanda’s total ban on shisha’s use, import and advertisement came less than a month later.

Likewise, Kathmandu, Nepal has started drafting smoke-free enforcement guidelines after a very successful launch in December featuring an anti-smoking march through the streets of the capital and a speech by Mayor Bidhya Sunder Shakya. Kathmandu’s plan includes surveys to assess public opinion, training of city and national police, extensive development of new signage and a mass media campaign.

As these cities and others within the Partnership continue to roll out their interventions and make real progress on these important health issues, we will be able to see the outcomes of a targeted approach to addressing the risk factors that too often lead to preventable cancers.   This World Cancer Day, we look forward to continuing to advance these efforts across our global network of cities committed to reducing NCDs and creating a world of healthier urban environments.

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