The Partnership for Healthy Cities is at an exciting mid-point, with many of the 54 cities in the two-year project already bringing their initiatives to life—guidelines for healthier food in schools, for instance, or projects to make cities more walkable and bikeable—all aimed at tackling noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries.
A Partnership workshop in Kuala Lumpur last week drew representatives from 13 of the cities for trainings and networking exercises aimed at sharpening participants’ skills and technical knowledge.
The Partnership is led by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his role as World Health Organization (WHO) Global Ambassador for NCDs, with WHO and Vital Strategies as the implementing partners. NCDs and injuries are responsible for almost 80% of deaths globally—yet they are preventable. Cities play a special role in the growing threat of traffic injuries and NCDs, such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. With over half the world’s population living in cities, mayors control many of the levers that can save lives.
In Kuala Lumpur, city technical leads met with a range of public health experts and took every opportunity to learn from their government peers in the Partnership network. The February 5-6 event couldn’t have drawn a more diverse group, with Bangkok, Boston, Cali, Cape Town, Fortaleza, Kuala Lumpur, Kyiv, Lima, Melbourne, Mexico City, Ouagadougou, Santo Domingo and Sao Paolo represented.
On day one, participants mapped out challenges and opportunities, breaking into discussion groups according to which one of the Partnership’s ten evidence-based public health interventions their city had chosen to implement. Fortaleza and Melbourne, for instance, are both incentivizing bicycle use, while Lima and Ouagadougou are both setting nutritional standards.
Cities posed hard questions to the group and were often able to benefit from the experiences of those who had navigated similar challenges: Questions included, for instance, how to win over Sao Paulo drivers who still don’t believe cyclists belong on the street, and how, in Ouagadougou, to establish citywide standards for healthy food while also accommodating the different needs of hospitals and restaurants.
Scattered among the day’s program were lighter activities, such as poster boards titled “Needs” and “Offers” that functioned like a public square, where post-it notes piled up mentioning everything from computer skills to language translation.
Day two began with a Vital Strategies primer on the value of communication campaigns and a media training featuring mock journalist interviews on camera, led by Enrico Aditjondro and Sally Chew. The focus was on being able to speak about one’s own city’s initiative in a way that would be compelling to the public (and to reporters).
In the afternoon, WHO’s Evelyn Murphy reviewed legislative strategies and there were presentations from Vital Strategies’ Tom Matte and Nandita Murukutla featuring approaches to monitoring and evaluating NCD- and injury-prevention. There was a lively discussion about ways to leverage the Partnership to enhance monitoring and evaluation locally.
Closing out the workshop, Murukutla asked participants to write “headlines” describing their Partnership achievement in a year’s time. These postcards-from-the-future will be worth re-reading; people were very creative.
Kuala Lumpur’s headline was “90% of Kuala Lumpur is Smoke Free,” for instance, and Melbourne’s was “Rewards App Motivates Sedentary to Walk and Cycle.”
Vital Strategies will also be watching what comes of the global networking as evidenced during the Kuala Lumpur workshop, while year two of the Partnership for Healthy Cities unfolds. It’s not just the public health projects that should have enduring effects, but the human connections too.