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Urban Health Collaborative Convenes Network of Urban Health Leaders from Latin America

 Network for Urban Health in Latin America and the Caribbean participants

March 9, 2016

An emerging network of researchers has set out to elevate the most innovative and impactful population health efforts from Latin American and Caribbean cities to inform and improve urban health around the world. The Network for Urban Health in Latin America and the Caribbean is coordinated by the Dornsife School of Public Health, in partnership with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the United Nations University (UNU), co-founders of the initiative.

Nearly 30 participants from diverse scientific backgrounds – physicians, social scientists, geographers, engineers, urban planners, architects, epidemiologists –  attended the second meeting of the Network for Urban Health in Latin America and the Caribbean. They represented Latin American research institutions including the Institute of Collective Health (Argentina); Urban Health Observatory of Belo Horizonte (Brazil); Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (FioCruz) of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). From Chile, participating organizations included Dr Salvador Allende School of Public Health at the University of Chile, the Laboratory of City and Territory at Diego Portales University, the Institute of Latin American Social Sciences, and two groups from Pontifical Catholic University of Chile: the Cities’ Observatory (OCUC) and the Center for Sustainable Urban Development (CEDEUS). The Universidad de los Andes (Colombia); Fundación Santa Fe de Bogotá (Colombia); Institute for Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP, Guatemala); Catholic University in Honduras (Honduras), National Institute of Public Health (Mexico), Cayetano Heredia University (Perú), Laboratory of Social Sciences (LASCO, Venezuela) also participated.

The goals of the network are to stimulate policy-relevant research on the state and drivers of health in cities of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), to disseminate information and findings to the public and policy-makers, and to promote translation of existing knowledge into actions that improve health and reduce health inequities in cities of LAC, while providing insights relevant to urban areas worldwide. The network was launched in Philadelphia in September of 2015 in the context of the Drexel School of Public Health Urban Health Symposium. The second meeting was held March 7 and 8 at the foothills of the Andes mountains in Santiago, Chile hosted by ECLAC. Participants shared expertise across a range of cities, and discussed new opportunities for collaboration in research and training across the region.

The City of Santiago – where the population jumped from 4 million residents in 1990 to more than 6 million in 2015 and where a number of urban planning initiatives are underway to improve the transportation and biking infrastructure of the city – provided an excellent backdrop for attendees as they discussed how cities of Latin American can influence the health of residents. Discussion topics included current health trends in the region, the impact of communicable and non-communicable disease, the multifaceted health consequences of violence, the role of various methodological approaches in urban health, and the links between evidence and policy.

Network members highlighted the pervasive impact of social inequalities on health in cities and pledged to make a focus on health equity a key element of the new network. They also highlighted the critical role of governance and community and policy-maker engagement.

Dornsife School of Public Health Dean Ana Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH, presented the goals and recent activities of the the Drexel Urban Health Collaborative which currently serves at the administrative home for the network. The Drexel Urban Health Collaborative has hosted visiting students and researchers from Argentina, Brazil, and Guatemala and will be expanding these activities as part of the future collaborative activities of the network.

“Latin America is one of the most urbanized regions of the world. Several features of the region, including the experimentation with a range of urban policies, make it uniquely suited to studying how urban environments affect health and how urbanization can be managed to create a sustainable and healthy future for the planet,” said Diez Roux, who directs the Drexel Urban Health Collaborative. “This network provides the opportunity to capitalize on public health and urban planning expertise across the region as well as variations in environments and policies across cities to identify ways in which cities can be governed and designed to improve health for all”

Issues surrounding urban health in Latin America will be the focus of a forthcoming declaration from the group. The group’s members are now working to compile and share data sets from different cities in the region in order to conduct comparative studies. They are also exploring opportunities for workshops and exchanges of faculty and trainees.

Future activities of the group include leading a panel presentation, “Meeting the Challenges of Sustainable Urban Health in Latin America and the Caribbean: a New Network for Policy-relevant Research and Knowledge Exchange,” at the 13th International Conference on Urban Health: Place and Health in San Francisco in April. This October, the group will collaborate on a panel related to sustainable urbanization in Latin American and the Caribbean at the Habitat III meeting – the bi-decennial United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – taking place in Quito, Ecuador.

The next meeting of the network will take place in six months.