KATHMANDU: Health experts today said the government must invest in pro-poor policies and strategies in order to reduce the urban equity gap.

Speaking at a programme organised to mark the World Health Day today, experts said with more and more people living in city areas, urban health has become a matter of great concern. World Health Organisation this year is marking the World Health Day with the slogan ‘1000 Cities, 1000 Lives’ and a theme of ‘Urban Health Matters’.

Dr Laxmi Raman Ban, director of National Health, Education, Information and Communication Centre, said the World Health Day is celebrated to raise awareness about challenges associated with people’s health. “This year we are marking the day to raise awareness about the challenges associated with urbanisation and discuss ways to address them through urban planning and inter-social action,” said Ban.

WHO estimates that for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population, more than three billion people, resides in urban areas. By 2030, six out of 10 people will be in city areas, and in 2050, the ratio will be seven out 10. Thirty years ago, four out of every 10 people were living in cities.

Dr Lin Aung, newly appointed WHO representative to Nepal, said urbanisation is more pronounced in the low- to middle-income countries of South-East Asia.

About 34 per cent of the total population of WHO’s South-East Asia Region is urban. According to UN Habitat, over 40 per cent of the urban population of South Asia lives in slums. The urban poor suffer disproportionately from a wide range of diseases and health problems, added Aung.

WHO has launched campaign ‘1000 cities, 1000 Lives’ to celebrate urban health and urban health champions-persons who have made a difference in their cities, making them healthier and more liveable.

“Nepal has registered 17 cities and municipalities at WHO campaign for various health related events,” said Ban.

WHO estimates that every one dollar spent in sanitation gives a return of $9.10 in terms of prevention and treatment of illness.

“Improved transportation, infrastructure and greener technologies will enhance urban quality of life, including fewer respiratory ailments, fewer accidents and better health for all,” said Ban.

Dr Sudha Sharma, secretary at the Ministry of Health and Population, said the state has guaranteed health as the fundamental right of the people in the interim constitution. “The government is introducing new programmes for the urban dwellers soon.”