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PAHO calls on local governments to join initiatives to promote healthy cities and communities

WASHINGTON, USA, (PAHO) – The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) highlighted the importance of health as a central axis of local agendas and urged mayors to participate in joint initiatives to promote healthy cities and municipalities in the region.

“Leaders of cities and municipalities have the opportunity to listen to their communities to understand where problems lie and to seek solutions,” said Dr Gerry Eijkemans, director of the department of social and environmental determinants for health equity at PAHO. “Health should be at the center of political agendas but it is not always given the highest priority when it comes to the actions of local governments,” she added.

This week, PAHO participated in the first Cities Summit of the Americas, held from April 26-28 in Denver (United States), which brought together local authorities from the region. PAHO led the summit’s health agenda with partners such as the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), with the support of many of the mayors who actively promote health and wellness in their territories.

During the Summit, Eijkemans called for the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to be applied in the health sector. “The experience of the pandemic opens up many opportunities at the local level: we know that inequity matters, that vulnerabilities are relevant, that organized communities are key players in identifying problems and that we must act with intersectoral responses,” she stressed.

Dr Eijkemans also presented the Organization’s common framework for action to strengthen local governments in their key role of building healthy cities. This framework, “rests on two strategic pillars for PAHO: initiatives to strengthen local governance for health and well-being, and the strengthening of alliances between cities and with other key partners,” she said.

Partnerships for health and wellness at the local level

A session organized by PAHO addressed, among other issues, experiences in the management of policies to improve health and well-being. These initiatives were presented by the mayor of Kennedy, Bogotá (Colombia), the mayor of Ameca, State of Jalisco (Mexico), and the deputy mayor of Recife, State of Pernambuco (Brazil). The initiatives focus, respectively, on three areas in which PAHO is actively working with cities and municipalities: urban governance for health and well-being, elder-friendly cities and environmental sustainability.

The session also addressed the relevance of partnerships for health and wellbeing at the local level, as well as the importance of networking to strengthen municipal governments. In this context, the Healthy Municipalities, Cities and Communities Movement (HMCC) was presented by its president, Esteban Martín Piaggio, mayor of Gualeguaychú, Entre Ríos (Argentina). The Movement is a project supported by PAHO for more than 30 years for the promotion of health. In addition, PAHO supports initiatives at the local level related to active aging, climate change and health.

“Health is a key part of social and economic development, as the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted. It is crucial that we reflect on the lessons learned and continue to push for health to be at the top of local government agendas,” concluded Dr Eijkemans.

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