African Cities Confront the Challenge of Non-Communicable Diseases

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In early March 2024, over 200 participants from 52 cities across 40 countries convened in Cape Town, South Africa, for the second annual summit of the “Partnership for Healthy Cities.” Health in urban settings in Africa faces numerous challenges, particularly in combating non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory illnesses. These diseases are partly linked to urban lifestyles, including poor dietary habits, physical inactivity, tobacco use, and air pollution.

Today, NCDs, once primarily affecting the elderly in Western countries, are escalating worldwide, affecting younger populations as well. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), they account for 41 million deaths annually, constituting 74% of all global deaths.

For cities, addressing NCDs represents a significant challenge. Geordin Hill-Lewis, the mayor of Cape Town, South Africa, explains, “Our major triumph in public health was nearly defeating the HIV-related health crisis in the late 1990s. Now, people can lead long and fulfilling lives even with HIV.

However, we are currently facing a new health crisis with the emergence of non-communicable diseases—conditions linked to our lifestyle that impose a tremendous financial burden on our public finances, as they are chronic illnesses. It’s truly akin to the crisis we faced in the 1990s.”

Today, 4.4 billion people live in cities, accounting for over half of the world’s population. By 2050, 70% of the global population will reside in urban areas. Consequently, cities are at the forefront and must take action across various domains.

Addressing NCDs requires action not only in healthcare but also in transportation, pollution control, and education. Mayors are better positioned to collaborate with these sectors and enact policies as they are closer to their constituents. They can reinforce national laws effectively.

The summit underscores the urgency for cities to implement comprehensive strategies to tackle NCDs, recognizing that it is not solely a health issue but also a societal one. By fostering collaboration between different stakeholders and sectors, cities can mitigate the impact of NCDs and improve the overall well-being of their residents.

Soukaina Sghir

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