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Vital Stories

With Cities on COVID-19’s Front Lines, Mayors Turn to Experts and Each Other Through Partnership Webinars

As urban public health systems continue to mount an unprecedented emergency response to COVID-19, the Partnership for Healthy Cities has responded with targeted technical support for its global network. Through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 Global Leadership Series, the Partnership has additionally opened up a channel for an exchange of experiences and strategies among its 70 cities.

High-level representatives from 24 cities around the world, including four mayors, joined a webinar on Tuesday, April 21 to discuss the mayoral response to COVID-19. During the session, Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, emphasized to mayors the importance of considering data and other city-specific information when weighing which public health and social measures (PHSMs) to implement, when to implement them and how to determine their effectiveness. Amanda McClelland, Senior Vice President of the Prevent Epidemics program at Resolve to Save Lives, provided a situational briefing and called attention to the role of city leadership in controlling the rate of spread on a large scale while also addressing the needs of vulnerable populations.

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr of Freetown, Sierra Leone described her city’s COVID-19 response and noted that local experience with the Ebola epidemic in 2014-2015 moved her to address the current pandemic early. Infections remain relatively low in the city as a result, but she warned that situation could easily change because of existing vulnerabilities such as population density and high rates of poverty.

“Freetown, like many cities in Africa, is plagued with existing vulnerabilities which were there before COVID-19. The classic response to COVID—handwashing, social distancing, lockdowns—becomes a huge challenge.”

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone

Two other regions of the world came into focus later in the week. A technical webinar on Thursday, April 23, convened representatives of 24 cities on the theme “Community Engagement During a Crisis.” The session featured guidance on risk communications techniques and city spotlights from Amman, Jordan and Montevideo, Uruguay. 

Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President for Policy, Advocacy and Communications at Vital Strategies shared key risk communication principles, including accuracy, credibility, empathy, respect, the provision of anticipatory guidance and promotion of action. Showing genuine empathy is important, said Mullin, in order to help residents manage their fear and to gain the public’s trust. But she advised that showing support should never mean holding back on difficult information. She urged cities to conduct daily COVID-19 media briefings (in most cases virtually) and use these as a forum to share evidence and data from public health scientists, help people understand actions they should take and the risk differentials among vulnerable populations, engage the broader urban community and counter harmful misinformation.

“People are more able to take care of themselves and their family if they’re given more information than less.”

Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President for Policy, Advocacy and Communications at Vital Strategies

Like Freetown, both Amman and Montevideo acted early in the course of the pandemic, implementing a range of measures to protect the public and communicate about their city’s response. 

Montevideo’s Director of Health, Dr. Analice Berón, reported that her city declared a health emergency and began public outreach about implementing public health and social measures (PHSMs) as soon as the fourth case of COVID-19 was identified, and continued communicating steadily thereafter. Dr. Mervat Al-Mherat, Amman’s Deputy Manager of Health and Agriculture, mentioned that misinformation on social media has remained an obstacle, making it a priority for the city to address such rumors directly.  

The webinar series continues next week on Tuesday, April 26 with a risk communication session for mayors, and on Thursday, April 28 with “Ethical and Legal Considerations for a City Response” for COVID-19 response leads. Both are at 8 am EST. Other city networks, including the C40 network of 94 mega-cities committed to addressing climate change, are being invited to join. For webinar recordings and additional tools, explore the Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 Response Center at:

About the Partnership for Healthy Cities:

The Partnership for Healthy Cities is a prestigious global network of cities committed to saving lives by preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with WHO, as well as Vital Strategies, this initiative enables cities around the world to deliver a high-impact policy or programmatic intervention to reduce NCDs and injuries in their communities. For more information, visit:

The Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 Response is part of the $40 million Bloomberg Philanthropies COVID-19 Global Response Initiative. By collaborating with the WHO and Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, the Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 Response is working hand-in-hand with the world’s leading experts on epidemic prevention.