Six Case Studies from Cities on the Front Lines

COVID-19 has brought urban leadership on health into greater focus: with more than 50% of the world’s population living in cities, urban governments have mounted a remarkable pandemic response—and continue to face daunting challenges.

Bold action by city leaders has and will continue to impact the global pandemic response. The Partnership for Healthy Cities presents key accomplishments from six cities in its global network, whose mayors who have taken on the role of urban health champions.

Ahmedabad, India

Tackling the dual challenge of tobacco use and COVID-19

In India, the COVID-19 pandemic is driving cities and states to implement tobacco control measures to curb virus spread. With over 200 million smokeless tobacco users in India, sub-national governments are building on momentum to strengthen tobacco control policies, reduce prevalence and avert years of illness and hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths per year. Ahmedabad—the largest city in India’s western state of Gujarat—took early action on smokeless tobacco control, recognizing the threat to COVID-19 transmission. A ban on spitting in public, the closure of stores selling chewing tobacco and other measures all follow efforts by the city in recent years to prioritize prevention of tobacco-related cancers and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).

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Key resources on COVID-19 and tobacco:

Athens, Greece

Addressing the intersection of homelessness and drug use

Through a cross-society collaboration dedicated to health promotion and harm reduction, the city of Athens has ensured that pandemic response efforts meet the unique vulnerabilities of marginalized groups. The city has created temporary housing for people affected by homelessness and a specialized support center for people who inject drugs. With support from the Partnership for Healthy Cities global network, Athens is also scaling up distribution of essential supplies and developing communication materials to support vulnerable groups in navigating available services and understanding the pandemic. The city’s interventions demonstrate real commitment to tackling the long-standing challenges of homelessness and substance use, and improving access to health for hard-to-reach groups.

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Key resources on COVID-19 and harm reduction:

Freetown, Sierra Leone

Prioritizing food security for low-income communities

The high rate of informal settlements and urban density in Freetown has tested the traditional public health response to COVID-19. With 68 informal settlements housing 35% of its population, the city has leaned on innovation and experimentation to implement virus containment measures in densely populated communities with low or no personal savings or food reserves. The city leveraged lessons from the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak to rapidly deploy a number of social protection interventions, such as providing emergency food packages and initiating an urban farming initiative—both supporting sustainable access to nutritious food and building resilience to future crises.

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Key resources on COVID-19 and food security:

Kampala, Uganda

Leaning on data to guide an equitable pandemic response

Recognizing the need to focus resources on those at risk of the greatest impact of COVID-19, authorities in Kampala sought to conduct a rapid assessment of community vulnerability. The resulting framework captures a community’s exposure rates and susceptibility to illness, resources and adaptive capacity, to guide decision-making and use of limited resources in the public health response—allowing for a targeted approach informed by data and oriented around equity.

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Key resources on COVID-19 and disease surveillance:

Lima, Peru

Expanding cycling infrastructure for a healthier city

The COVID-19 era has been a boon for bikes, with physical distancing easier to follow on two wheels than inside trains or buses. Concerned about the risk of crowded public transport during COVID-19, the city of Lima is strengthening its cycling infrastructure with almost 50 km of emergency cycle lanes and additional parking. The use of public awareness and safety campaigns have furthermore strengthened road use practices and promote cycling as a safe mode of transport with benefits to personal, population and environmental health. The results are clear: Peru’s national Ministry of Transport and Communication accelerated the approval of legislation which promotes and regulates the use of the bicycle as a sustainable mode of transport.

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Key resources on COVID-19, road safety and physical activity:

Yangon, Myanmar

Uniting the public through risk communication

Facing rising cases of the novel coronavirus disease and inadequate public awareness or uptake of protective practices, the city of Yangon developed an effective mass media campaign entitled “Let’s Beat COVID Together.” With a positive tone and a message of solidarity, the campaign served to unite the public around playing their part in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and in supporting patients and healthcare workers on the front lines. The campaign was broadcast on radio, TV and social media—reporting an online reach of over 3.5 million at the end of six weeks. As clear and accurate communication around the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a priority, this whole-of-society collaboration in Yangon serves as a valuable model.

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Key resources on COVID-19 and risk communication: