Urban Health in the 21st Century

About 55% of the world’s population – roughly four billion people – live in urban areas. Almost one-quarter of these people – about 880 million people – live in urban slums or informal settlements, including about 300 million children. While the pace of urbanization and the growth of slums has slowed in some regions of the world like Latin America, both continue to grow rapidly in Sub Saharan Africa and South East Asia. Urbanization is an important driver of prosperity, but also a concerning driver of inequality.

Poor and marginalized urban dwellers, especially recent arrivals in cities, have greater exposure to unhealthy and unsafe environments; limited access to green spaces or options for walking and recreation; limited connectivity to social networks, health services, social support networks and the local economy; inadequate and inequitable access to safe and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene; and poor access to waste management services. Urbanization increases the risk of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, dengue fever, Zika and COVID-19, as well as many non- communicable threats to health, including injuries from accidents, risk of violent crime, exposure to carcinogens, and obesity- related diseases. Air pollution, particularly in urban areas, is a large and growing threat to health, causing almost one in 10 deaths of children under five worldwide.

USC IIGH has already contributed significantly to global understanding of health concerns raised by urban environments including barriers and challenges in delivering health interventions to the most marginalized, such as the health and rights issues for homeless and other marginalized populations working with the Mayor’s office of the city of Los Angeles, and others domestically and internationally.

The Institute on Inequalities in Global Health is committed to building on these foundations to make significant additional contributions to the understanding of urbanization and global health, recognizing the increasing importance of the role local government must play in addressing health inequalities. 

Working locally and globally, collaborating across USC and with relevant external partners, the Institute will continue to partner with the City of Los Angeles, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNDP and other external leaders on issues including increasing access to green spaces. The Institute will also work to identify and evaluate health and social system approaches to ensure effective health and social coverage; address gender and other vulnerabilities impacted by urban areas such as public safety, support educational opportunities, and equal pay initiatives; and work to address child health, prenatal and antenatal care and delivery, and chronic conditions exacerbated by urban life on the poorest and most vulnerable.