Health Research Program
Related Project:
The Kampala Slum Maternal and Newborn Health Project
Henry Kaula
Implementation Lead, Kampala Slum Maternal and Newborn Health Project, Health Research Program

Cities can impact the health of urban populations through innovative policies and interventions. However, they are also complex spaces with unique challenges that require policymakers to take a collaborative approach. 

Urban setting
Photo credit: International Society for Urban Health

It was exciting to be part of the 16th International Conference on Urban Health which was held November 4-8th in Xiamen, China. Hosted by the International Society for Urban Health, the conference theme was, People Oriented Urbanization: Transforming Cities for Health and Well-Being. The conference brought together different individuals concerned with the effects of urbanization on health; researchers, policy makers, community leaders, and urban planners from across the globe.

A key take-away from the conference was the call for an eco-social approach to urban health planning that recognizes the ecological and social determinants of health. This theme was reflected in different presentations and side conversations as we collectively thought about ways in which cities should be built, transformed and structured for better health and wellbeing.

Photo credit: Monica Fox, CIRCLE Project

In the Health Research Program’s Kampala Slum Maternal and Newborn project based in Kampala, Uganda, we focus on generating evidence to improve maternal and neonatal health outcomes. Our formative research identified several determinants of maternal and newborn health outcomes for women living in Kampala’s slumseconomics, education, availability of transportation, gender, and social development among others. At the policy level, these determinants are covered under four different ministries: the Ministry of Education and Sports; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development; and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. For urban populations, residences and work places are often spread across different administrative borders. Therefore, interventions targeted at improving  conditions for the urban poor need to work across different government agencies and administrative boundaries. 

In the case of the Kampala Metropolitan Area, this  would mean the creation of an intersectoral working group encompassing the cities of Kampala, Mukono, Wakiso, and Entebbe. Such a group would have representation from sectors as varied as finance, gender, education, health, physical planning, public works, and transport, and include municipality leadership, district chairpersons and perhaps even Members of Parliament. With intersectoral coordination, plans can be jointly developed and implemented.

I was particularly impressed by the lessons from San Salvador, El Salvador, where municipal mayors are closely aligned and plan together to tackle challenges affecting urban populations. Such integrated planning has the added benefit of improving data dissemination between public health researchers, policy makers and politicians, and promoting governance based on evidence. These lessons are transferable to other contexts, including Kampala. 

Stakeholder inclusiveness is key to effective implementation of successful policies that impact urban design. In addition, translating public health research so that it is tailored towards policy makers and politicians will allow them to better understand the research implications, and will lead to better policy development. I believe this evidence has the power to influence policy and advocacy. With better collaboration across organizations and by bringing the right voices to the table, people-oriented urban spaces will become the rule, not the exception.