Living in East African towns risky – experts

Kampala- Kampala residents, like counterparts in most eastern Africa countries, are vulnerable to contracting communicable diseases due to unchecked urban poverty and breakdown of social safety nets, according to a new report.

Titled, ‘Owning Our Urban Future: Enabling Healthy Cities in Eastern Africa’, the report released in Kampala yesterday paints a disconsolate picture: the poor suffer failing health due to nutrient deficit and unhygienic environments while the rich eat themselves to the grave through unhealthy diets.

The latter category are at more risk due to sedentary lifestyle. 
The study was done jointly by the National Science Academies of Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, the young Academies of Ethiopia and Uganda, and the African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation.

Researchers noted that a dearth of health facilities, particularly in congested slums, has increased health-related challenges for residents without job security and working for long hours in dangerous conditions.

“…one individual can quickly disseminate an infection to the entire community, especially in areas of overcrowding and poor sanitation and hygiene. Urban slums are affected by communicable diseases as their living conditions are highly amenable to the spread of infectious diseases,” the report reads in part.

The researchers, according to the study, evaluated the urban health landscape, covering alcoholism, substance abuse and mental health; urban determinants of health, highlighting causal linkages between social aspects and the built environment; and, managing the complexity of urban health directly.

Prof Mary Okwakol, the vice chancellor of Busitema University, who doubles as a member of the Uganda National Academy of Sciences (UNAS), said the study was designed to examine the health situation in East Africa’s cities.

“These findings will help to shape policy making because health is a critical aspect for human life, and with the ever increasing urban population,” she said.

The researchers reported that urban populations are at a higher risk of HIV transmission because of more prevalent high-risk behaviour.

“Population in peri-urban and slum areas are at higher risk of contracting malaria than other urban residents when zoning and environmental regulations are not enforced. Children carry a disproportionate communicable disease burden, especially in slum areas. Pneumonia and diarrhoea are common causes of death among children living in slums,” the report adds.

Mr Samuel Mabala, the acting director for Housing, said whereas planning for cities is important, the aspect of health is crucial and must be prioritised.

“We are currently rolling out the National Physical Development Plan across the country and we hope to incorporate all these health issues to guarantee the safety of the people,” he said, attributing the city’s haphazard developments in part to the country’s checkered history. 
Mr Mabala urged urban authorities to enforce planning and zoning regulation to ensure compatible land uses and aesthetics of livable and self-sustaining towns.

Source: Daily Monitor Uganda

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