WHO Offers Guidelines to Tackle Urban Deaths
Wed, April 14, 2021

WHO Offers Guidelines to Tackle Urban Deaths

Recently, the World Health Organization has offered new guidelines for urban leaders in line with the urban death discussion / Photo Credit: Fernando Gregory Milan via 123rf


The World Health Organization, a specialized agency of the UN concerned with international public health, published a report that offers tools and guidelines for urban leaders to help them tackle urban deaths, particularly of noncommunicable diseases.

WHO states that NCDs, such as diabetes, cancer, stroke, and heart disease, kill about 41 million people in the world every year. Road traffic crash is also another cause of urban death focused by WHO. It said 1.35 million people worldwide die every year because of road traffic accidents. WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that more than 50 percent of the world’s people now live in cities and their numbers continue to increase. 

A noncommunicable disease is a disease that is not transmissible directly from one person to another.

City leadership for health

Ghebreyesus went on to say that city leaders are the ones who make decisions and these can impact the health of billions of people. He believes that for cities to thrive, people need “access to services that will improve their health.” These services include public transport, attractive, clean, and safe outdoor spaces, affordable health services, and healthy food. 

WHO titled their 2019 report "The Power of Cities: Tackling Non-Communicable Diseases and Road Traffic Injuries." The content is created for city policy planners, local government officials, and mayors. It was also funded by NY-based Bloomberg Philanthropies, which encompasses charitable giving and focuses on environment, public health, government innovation, education, and the arts.

The report points out the main areas where officials and city leaders can address noncommunicable diseases, including lack of exercise, poor diets, air pollution, and tobacco use, and how they can enhance road safety in the city.


WHO's 2019 report is specifically proposed for the city policy planners, local government officials, and mayors / Photo Credit: rawpixel via 123rf


Effective programs implemented in various cities

Three-term New York City Mayor and WHO’s Global Ambassador for NCDs and injuries Micheal R. Bloomberg said that by copying the effective measures on a worldwide scale, millions of lives can be saved. The mayor added that they are currently working to raise awareness among policymakers and city leaders on the gains if they will put in place effective programs for their city. Examples of these include the anti-tobacco program in Bogor, Indonesia and Beijing, China. There are also road safety projects in Bangkok, Thailand and Accra, Ghana.

WHO also mentioned the bike-sharing initiative in Fortaleza, Brazil. It made the city a role model for urban transportation. Fortaleza has proven that it is doing its part to reduce pollution caused by cars and traffic as a whole after it ranked the fourth city in Brazil with the worst traffic and 35th in the world. 

New York City also created walkable streets for their senior citizens and it helped them reduced elderly pedestrian deaths by 16 percent. All these initiatives can help urban policy planners and leaders in their decision-making. WHO studied 19 case studies and found 15 of them are from developing nations, where more than 90 percent of road traffic accidents are recorded and 85 percent premature adult deaths because of noncommunicable disease occur.



One city case study used by the WHO in their report was that of Hoi An, Vietnam. It said that public spaces are important to the success of the city. These are places for physical activity, sport, recreation, and relaxation. Part of Hoi An’s public spaces master plan was to increase the accessibility to public spaces by active transportation for the city dwellers. They also studied Vienna, Austria. The city has an ambitious target of achieving 80 percent ecomobility (walking, public transport, and cycling) by 2025. So, a part of the city’s strategy is to promote walking by increasing the share of pedestrian traffic beyond the current level.

NCD death rate

WHO has likewise shared the NCD death rate, age standardized per 100,000 population. Canada had a 291.6 NCD death rate in 2016, United States a 417.9 death rate, China 542.4, India 597.5, Thailand 427.4, Philippines 678.3, Indonesia 764, Papua New Guinea 708.3, Australia 292.6, Myanmar 763.8, South Korea 266.7, Mongolia 825.7, Kazakhstan 787.9, Uzbekistan 687.4, Turkmenistan 823.4, Japan 242.5, Sweden 318.3, Norway 309.8, United Kingdom 342.4, Ireland 348.2, and France 290.

Countries with the highest number of deaths due to noncommunicable diseases include Togo (West Africa), Eswatini, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, countries with the lowest number of deaths due to NCD include France, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Austria, Ireland, Denmark, Singapore, Switzerland, Israel, and Greece.

The agency has also previously discussed how people living in substandard housing are more prone to health impacts from extreme weather, cold waves, and heat. There are also poor urban households that rely on coal cookstoves and smoky biomass. Particles from both can create indoor air pollution and the emission of black carbon.



WHO’s suggestion may help local governments of different countries promote and protect the public’s health. Not only do they serve as stewards for the well-being of their local populations but they also have the ability and authority to improve the services that meet the needs of the people.