Putrajaya, Malaysia, 13 October 2010—A shift from rural to urban living is occurring rapidly in the Western Pacific Region, prompting the World Health Organization (WHO) to call for a revitalization of its healthy settings approach in order to cushion the consequences of this change.
The aim of healthy settings is to create a healthier environment by addressing the social and environmental determinants of health. These determinants—physical infrastructure, education, social services, and local governance—strongly influence people's well-being and health.
"Revitalization of the healthy settings approach cannot be done by the health sector alone," Regional Director Dr Shin Young-soo told WHO's Regional Committee for the Western Pacific meeting in Putrajaya, Malaysia. "Multisectoral approaches, with adequate technical resources and stronger national coordination and support, are needed to further promote healthy settings activities in the Region."
Healthy settings, specifically Healthy Cities and Healthy Islands, have been widely accepted throughout the Region, but the rapid pace of urbanization, economic globalization and associated social and environmental changes call for their scaling-up and expansion, the meeting was told.
The Regional Committee for the Western Pacific, WHO's governing body in the Region, discussed issues and challenges associated with the implementation of Healthy Cities and Healthy Islands and how best to enhance their effectiveness and sustainability.
In the discussions, the Regional Committee considered the elements that had contributed to successful Healthy Cities and Healthy Islands projects: political commitment, community support, multi-departmental involvement, local ownership, and a conducive social and cultural environment.
With Asian developing countries rapidly urbanizing, WHO warned that hasty and unplanned urbanization could create multiple risks that could lead to wider health inequities and increased exposure to unhealthy conditions, and thus affect the quality of life.
The emergence of super-cities is happening most rapidly in developing countries, where generally the speed of urbanization has outpaced the ability of governments to build essential infrastructure and provide basic services.
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Fact sheet on healthy settings
- Settings that aim to create a healthier environment by addressing the social, environmental and economic determinants of health are known as "healthy settings" and can include schools, workplaces, marketplaces, villages and communities.
- The Healthy Cities movement started in Australia, Japan and New Zealand in 1987, and has spread to other countries, including Cambodia, China (including Hong Kong and Macao), the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea and Viet Nam
- In 2000, WHO provided regional guidelines for developing Healthy Cities projects in the Region.
- In 2003, the Alliance for Healthy Cities was established, with WHO support, to promote the sharing of experiences and best practices. The Alliance has grown from 10 members to nearly 150 members today.
- In 1995, the vision of Healthy Islands was proclaimed by Pacific health ministers in the Yanuca Island Declaration and has served since as a framework for achieving better health in the Pacific.
Challenges facing Pacific island countries
- The recent "triple threat" of fuel, food and financial crisis has had a profound impact on health in the Pacific.
- Climate change has created an unprecedented level of vulnerability to environmental disasters.
- Rapid unplanned urbanization and reliance on motorized transport pose new challenges to health and safety.
- Tobacco use, the harmful use of alcohol, lifestyle-related diseases and mental health problems are also on the rise.