Bahrain, where Arabian Gulf oil was first discovered, where its first electrical infrastructure was installed, and where its first school for girls was established, has chalked up yet another regional first.
Manama, the island kingdom’s capital, has been labeled “Healthy City 2021” by the World Health Organisation (WHO) — the first Middle East capital to earn the distinction — in recognition of its commitment to creating an environment conducive to human well-being.
“This is a great honour for us,” Sheikh Hisham bin Abdul Rahman Al-Khalifa, the governor of Manama. “We are very happy that we made it and Manama was recognised as the first city in the region as a healthy city.”
A “Healthy City” is defined by a process. It is a city that is conscious of health and is striving to improve it; any city, regardless of its current health status, has the potential to become one.It is one that continually creates and improves its physical and social environments and expands the community resources that enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life, and developing to their maximum potential,” the WHO explained.
The “Healthy City” concept was launched in 1990 to establish a link between the services provided to citizens and the implementation of sustainable development policies.The approach seeks to put health high on the political and social agenda of cities, and to build a strong movement for public health at a local level. It strongly emphasises equity, participatory governance, solidarity, collaboration and action to address the determinants of health.
Successful implementation requires innovation addressing all aspects of living conditions, and extensive networking between cities.
Bahrain joined the WHO Healthy Cities Network in 2015 and initially launched a pilot scheme in the Umm Al-Hassam district of southern Manama. After this won WHO’s approval in 2018, the kingdom expanded its projects to cover the entire capital, forming a special council to oversee its implementation.
Manama was declared a “Healthy City” in June 2021 during a virtual ceremony hosted by the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean.
Like the rest of the world, Bahrain has been hit by coronavirus-induced lockdowns, uncertainty and economic disruption. But now, more than 18 months since the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) emerged in China and engulfed nearly every country on the planet, Bahrain appears to have turned the corner. It is currently behind only the UAE and Malta in terms of vaccine doses administered per capita.
Rapid urbanisation worldwide has made the concept of healthy cities all the more pertinent. Cities are frequently overcrowded with inadequate means of waste disposal, polluted air, street violence and, in many cases, substandard housing and hazardous working conditions.In 2018, some 55% of the global population lived in cities, according to UN figures. That percentage is forecast to grow to 68% by 2050.
Rising urbanisation requires “successful management of urban growth” and better handling of issues relating to housing, transportation and energy, coupled with basic services such as education and healthcare, says the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Today, the majority of Bahrainis live in towns and cities, while an estimated 11.4% of the kingdom’s population live in rural areas, according to a 2015 profile published by the WHO in 2017.
Based on several metrics for health and well-being, the kingdom is performing well. Life expectancy at birth now averages 77 years; the literacy rate is 98.2 % for young people and 94.6% for adults.In a country of 1.641 million people, with a capital city housing 200,000, the health workforce density is 9.1 physicians and 24.1 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people, according to UN figures.
This article was first published by Arab News