COVID-19 has put cities in the limelight, due to their role as epicenters of the pandemic (cities concentrate 95% of reported COVID cases, according to the UN). Their size, high level of connectivity and urban overcrowding make them particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases. On the other hand, the density and infrastructure of cities, as well as the municipal authorities’ proximity to the population allow them to swiftly intervene and provide public health services in an effective manner, when they have the resources, capacity and powers to do so.

Cities have benefitted from significant attention in relation to the COVID-19 crisis and there is a momentum to seize to further discuss their role in preventing and responding to diseases beyond the public health emergency and in promoting health and well-being more generally.

The influence of cities and urban settings on health is well known. Indeed, living conditions are significant determinants of the health of urban dwellers, including in the areas of housing (this includes the presence of slums and informal settlements in and around cities), employment, education, food, access to water and sanitation, transport, physical activity, access to green spaces, air pollution, noise and healthcare infrastructure.

Tackling determinants of health requires action at local level, because cities have the ability to shape the environment in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. As the closest level of governance to individuals and communities, municipal authorities are uniquely placed to improve determinants of health through a multisectoral approach (engaging all relevant sectors of society, including beyond traditional health partners) and multi-level governance (working in partnership with other levels of government) to achieve positive health outcomes for all.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major socio-economic crisis worldwide, local authorities have seized this opportunity to take bold measures to improve some determinants of health. For instance, the extension of bike lanes in many cities is a concrete measure to move around and respect social distancing, while promoting physical activity, reducing noise and air pollution at the same time. At the recent Forum of Mayors,

Mayors of the UNECE region expressed their aspiration to build healthy cities by creating environments which improve the physical, mental and environmental health of their communities. In this regard, several mayors referred to their efforts to implement the concept of the “15-minute city” – i.e. a city where essential needs of urban dwellers can be met in less than a 15-minute walk or bike ride – which has thus been given significant momentum with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Objectives of the meeting:

  • Hear from municipal authorities and urban experts what measures have been taken to positively influence determinants of health; what can be replicated and scaled-up;
  • Hear from WHO about the Healthy Cities initiative, in particular with regard to the COVID context;
  • Discuss what are the best avenues to promote a multi-sectoral approach to well-being;
  • Discuss what are the best avenues to put this important issue on the agenda of international health policy debates in Geneva.

Guiding questions:

  • What are the competencies of your city(ies) in relation to health and well-being?
  • What concrete measures have been triggered by COVID (opportunities) and what are the main challenges in terms of influencing urban determinants of health in a COVID world?
  • How do municipal authorities ensure that healthy choices are easy for urban dwellers?
  • Where does WHO stand in terms of the Healthy Cities initiative? Lessons learnt?
  • How to ensure involvement of all relevant stakeholders in the local policies and programs related to urban determinants of health?
  • How is health policy articulated across the different levels of government in your country?


  • Introductory Video-message – Evelyne de Leeuw, University of New South Wales, Australia
  • Dagur B. Eggertsson, Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland  
  • Anuela Ristani, Vice Mayor of Tirana, Albania
  • Charlotte Marchandise- Franquet, former deputy Mayor, Rennes, France
  • Graham Alabaster, Head of UN Habitat office in Geneva
  • Monika Kosinska, WHO Europe Healthy Cities

Time and Registration zoom link

  • 3 December, 10h00 to 11h30 (Geneva time)
  • S'inscrire here
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