Regions for Health Network (RHN) and Healthy Cities Network together in Ostrava to build environmental and social resilience

Between 13 and 15 June 2017 an RHN delegation participated in the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, held in Ostrava, Czech Republic. During the conference a side event was organized, whereby some cities and regions presented the joint statement of the WHO Healthy Cities Network and the RHN. The statement affirms the pledge of the networks to bring global environment and health agendas to the subnational level through decisive, transformative joint action, best practice exchange and peer learning, multi-level and multisectoral collaboration, and the co-creation of solutions. The networks also confirm their commitment to take the vision, impetus and agenda from the side event and the Sixth Ministerial Conference forward, moving on with the conversation about joint challenges in environment and health. Regions and cities are very often on the front line in terms of the first response to citizens, which represents a very good reason why their alliance must be strengthened.

The event was attended by many key people from both of the networks and from WHO. It was opened by Alena Šteflová, Head of the WHO Country Office in the Czech Republic; Lord Mayor Tomáš Macura of Ostrava; Laurence Carmichael, Head of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments in Bristol, United Kingdom; and Ivo Vondrák, Governor of the Moravian-Silesian Region, Czech Republic.

After the opening session, the event proceeded with a panel discussion, with participation by Furio Honsell, Mayor of the City of Udine, Italy; Abdulkadir Karlık, Deputy Mayor of the Bursa Metropolitan Municipality, Turkey; Bart Bautmans, Head of the Environmental Health Care team, Flanders Agency for Care and Health, Belgium; and Jitka Bouskova from the Healthy Cities of the Czech Republic Network. In addition, 3 delegates from the RHN also contributed: Maria Chiara Corti, Director of the Regional Epidemiology Centre, Veneto Region, Italy; Knut-Johan Rognlien, Head of Public Health Unit, Østfold County Council, Norway; and Elisabeth Bengtsson, Regional Development Officer of Västra Götaland, Sweden (who also was the moderator for the panel discussion, as well as presenting the joint statement).

Finally, Graham Alabaster (United Nations Human Settlements Programme) and Bettina Menne (Coordinator for Health and Development (SDG), WHO Regional Office for Europe) closed the side event.

The Chair and participants highlighted many important outcomes.

  • Safe, healthy, resilient and sustainable cities and regions are a goal shared by all, and it is important to move forward the conversation on these joint challenges, vision and leadership, ensuring the alignment of objectives.
  • Patience and persistence are key to effecting change for the environment and health at subnational level; change is never easy or comfortable, but local, regional and municipal governments are important catalysts in this process, and smart, integrated approaches are needed and are being pioneered by the attending cities and regions.
  • Cities and regions do not stand alone but operate in a honeycomb of institutions and governance levels – coherent processes to integrate governance mechanisms at all levels are needed, and are being worked on by the cities and regions involved.
  • Local leadership is highly important in addressing global challenges – there are numerous opportunities to improve environmental determinants of health and well-being at both city and regional levels, in order to seize these opportunities and further the environment and health agenda at the subnational level.

The panel was very successful; it was one of the better attended side events held at the Sixth Ministerial Conference.