WHO Urban HEART Consultation Day 3

IMG_4166I’ve been invited to participate in a WHO Consultation on Urban HEART in Kobe. This is a post on Day 3 of the Consultation, there are also posts on Day 1 and Day 2.

Workshop 3: Review of Urban HEART guidance

There was a widespread view that the current Urban HEART guidance works quite well but that there are a few areas where it might be enhanced. There was discussion about the selection of interventions and responses being difficult in practice, and that it involves considerable negotiation. There wasn’t agreement about the best ways to reflect this in the guidance but it was a recurrent theme, and one that’s familiar in the context of HIA and negotiating recommendations.

Community participation is another aspect of Urban HEART that has been difficult to provide guidance on. Participatory rapid assessments, health assemblies, surveys, workshops, and the use of mobile and electronic engagement tools were all discussed as ways to involve communities in Urban HEART processes, though these were all recognised as having limitations.

There was quite a lot of discussion about the extent to which HIA might be integrated into Urban HEART, though it was agreed that Urban HEART and HIA are complementary rather than being processes that could be integrated. This is because Urban HEART helps to identify needs and areas for action at the city level, whereas HIA is most useful where there is a proposal or a limited set of options to assess. So whilst there are procedural similarities they serve quite different purposes and integrating them might complicate things rather than helping. The diagram below from the Urban HEART User Guide shows how WHO conceptualises Urban HEART’s role in local planning cycles. Some related procedures like multi-criteria decision analysis and equity lenses were also discussed, and how they might be integrated into Urban HEART.

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An important issue that was discussed was that we need to focus on enhancing the equity focus of Urban HEART rather than simply improving the technical aspects of the process. The value of Urban HEART is its equity focus rather than its health focus, and we need to prioritise that in any revisions. This is something I hadn’t really considered before and I think it poses a challenge to the HIA practitioners: beware focusing on improving technical aspects of the assessment process at the expense of an equity focus. Technically perfect assessments won’t necessarily result in inequities being better addressed.

The need to demonstrate economic effectiveness/cost-benefit was also discussed. This is familiar territory for HIA practitioners! I confess that I have mixed feelings about this. Whilst I can see that there are benefits to even limited economic approaches to describing the economic benefits of HIA or Urban HEART (willingness to pay analyses, estimated savings based on case studies, etc), ultimately Urban HEART and HIA are about informing and improving planning and decision-making. They’re not readily comparable to other health interventions because they’re fundamentally different types of interventions.

The need for an online guide, repository and clearinghouse for evidence was discussed. We’re very fortunate in HIA to have the HIA Gateway. The consensus was that something similar is required for Urban HEART.

City case presentations

Madeleine Ntetani-Nkoussou discussed the use of Urban HEART in Brazzaville, Congo. There’s a number of issues in Brazzaville associated with informal settlement/slums and rapid urbanisation. The physical and service infrastructure has struggled to keep pace. Potable water access and access to water sealed toilets remain big issues, as is food security. urban HEART helped the city identify the four arrondissement that required greater activity, in particular around the provision of health services and prevention activities.

Plenary discussion: Next steps

One issue that was raised is whether there a need or mechanism to involve state and national governments in Urban HEART? Though this approach would have relevance to them, a big part of the appeal of Urban HEART is the clarity of the indicators and its applicability at the city level.

The distinction between Urban HEART as an indicator/diagnostic tool and a framework to guide implementation came up a few times. It’s intended to be both, but there’s a tension, which most HIA practitioners would have encountered as well.

There was quite wide-ranging and detailed discussion about approaches to building capacity for Urban HEART, which I won’t describe in detail here because I’m not able to do justice to the range of issues discussed. Some of the broad topics touched on included:

  • capacity building
  • sharing best practice, particularly in the form of brief case studies focused on key learning
  • building Urban HEART into WHO and country-level work plans
  • linking to professional groups/associations
  • ensuring the health sector comes along the journey and that Urban HEART doesn’t become the sole responsibility of cities/other sectors
  • how often does Urban HEART need to be revisited/redone
  • how can we make Urban HEART sell itself, i.e. so it doesn’t need much ongoing support
  • compendiums of best practice and then thinking how some of these best practice cases might be synthesised
  • how to advance an equity agenda in settings where it’s not on the political agenda

These issues are all eerily familiar to people who’ve worked on HIA! It was an excellent Consultation with lots of food for thought that also highlighted how well-designed Urban HEART is and how much work has gone into its development. I plan to do another post in a few days that brings together some of the critical points and what the implications might be for HIA.

WHO Urban HEART Consultation Day 2

KobeI’ve been invited to participate in a WHO Consultation on Urban HEART in Kobe. This is a post on Day 2 of the Consultation, there are also posts on Day 1 and Day 3.

Workshop 1: Review of Urban HEART concepts

The first workshop focused on factors affecting health equity that might be missing from or not sufficiently emphasised in Urban HEART. These include things like gender, food and nutrition, emergency preparedness, conflict and security, universal health coverage and environmental sustainability.

The issue of within-neighbourhood disaggregation was discussed, particularly in terms of age and gender, but there was a broad recognition that this data simply isn’t available for most indicators and that this may add a layer complexity to an already imposing process. There was also a recognition that many indicators of health equity might not be sensitive enough, or may reflect structural or systemic inequalities, to change at the local or city level. These issues will be very familiar to those who have looked at equity and vulnerability within impact assessments.

There was quite a bit of discussion about the degree to which Urban HEART needs to be regarded as a standardised, readily-comprehensible approach or something that can be adapted to local needs. This is a debate I’ve encountered several times in relation to HIA and the answer seems to lie somewhere between those two extremes.

City case presentations

A presentation from Dr Oyelaran-Oyeyinka from UN-HABITAT emphasised the important role cities play as the engine rooms of economic development, though the challenge is to ensure that’s inclusive development. Internationally the urban-rural divide is diminishing but the rich-poor divide is increasing.

Kelly Murphy from St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto presented on her work adapting Urban HEART for use in developed countries. The City of Toronto has adopted Urban HEART as a mechanism to guide funding of Neighbourhood Improvement Areas and Issue to 2020.

The difficulties encountered in Toronto include:

  • working together (team changes, maintaining relationships, timelines, expectations)
  • Urban HEART being easy to use but not easy to produce (the process is clear but the sources of data is not, potential misinterpretation of results, e.g. stigmatising areas or only focusing in “red” areas when gains could be made in “yellow” ones).

The facilitating factors in Toronto incude:

  • WHO Brand associated with Urban HEART lent it credibility
  • trusted convenor
  • established relationships
  • credible technical expertise (epidemiologist with recognised track record and relationships)
  • senior champions (administrative rather than elected representatives)
  • City’s willingness to innovate
  • lead partner providing secretariat support (so the process “belonged” to someone)
  • community involvement
  • specific funding from CIHR to get the ball rolling, though the City of Toronto has now adopted this as a process within its “Wellbeing Toronto” monitoring and reporting activities

Kelly spoke about the need to talk about equity for all sectors, as opposed to health equity, and responsiveness to policy processes. Urban HEART was regarded as a clear tool that “made sense”. Despite being a developed city, Toronto found that Urban HEART was a useful approach and that the domains of the tool were still relevant.

Jose Velandia Rodriguez from Bogota, Columbia also spoke about his experience using Urban HEART in Bosa, a region within Bogota.

Workshop 2: Review of Urban HEART indicators

Most cities that have used Urban HEART have had to adapt the core indicators to some extent, or only use some of them. Most cities have also used secondary or suggested indicators as well, rather than solely the core indicators. The evaluations of city case studies so far have emphasised the need to integrate environmental and qualitative indicators/information to a greater extent.

There was a wide-ranging discussion of how and whether universal health coverage should be reflected in the Urban HEART indicators. There was a broad agreement that there should be at least one amongst the core indicator set that deals with universal health coverage, given the global focus on it, but it’s hard to identify what the key domains of UHC are. It’s generally regarded as having three dimensions – access to health services, utilisation of health services and financing of health services. There was recognition across the workshops that whilst UHC financing clearly has an impact, it often lies beyond the scope of local government to influence. They have a greater role in access and utilisation, often by providing co-funding or premises and in some cases payments to cover the direct health care costs of the poor.

The discussion on this was wide-ranging and quiet comprehensive. Rather than recapping it here I’ll just note that WHO is currently developing a UHC indicator set, which will be drawn on in selecting the UHC indicators to be included in Urban HEART. The indicators will need to focus on access and quality and have some sensitivity to vulnerability and equity at the local level. In general, geographic distribution of services is an available indicator in many settings, but beyond that it’s hard to say what will be available. Health care-related impoverishment (where people are pushed into greater poverty by healthcare costs) and catastrophic health expenditure were identified as important measures with clear equity implications, though it is unclear about how these can be turned into indicators reliably or meaningfully.

There was also discussion about how to incorporate ageing-related indicators into Urban Heart, though the consensus was that it may be more important to ensure there is disaggregation of other indicators by age rather than adding new indicators. It may be useful to refer people to WHO’s guidance on age-friendly cities where appropriate.

Emergency management indicators have already been committed to in some form, following WHO discussions with other UN agencies. These might include existence of emergency standard operating procedure plans in local government agencies. Other indicators might include prevalence of disaster-resistant buildings, e.g. earthquake-resistant buildings, people trained in emergency response, presence of local emergency response groups/networks, etc.

Qualitative data may help to fill in gaps and supplement other indicators. There was some discussion about how to integrate and present qualitative data in Urban HEART.

A bigger issue is that there is a need to ensure Urban HEART has as few possible indicators as possible in order to enhance usability, and that the indicators included are all equity-sensitive and available. They also essentially need to be geo-coded, at least at a neighbourhood level, and very few indicators are in *any* setting. Addressing this will be no easy task.


WHO Urban HEART Consultation Day 1

IMG_4183I’ve been invited to participate in a WHO Consultation on Urban HEART in Kobe. This is a post on some of the issues discussed on Day 1, with some of my thoughts and reflections scattered throughout. There are also posts on Day 2 and Day 3.

Urban HEART grew out of the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health‘s work and dates back to 2007. Early activity on piloting and developing a tool were led by a few countries, notably Iran. The final report from the CSDOH gave further impetus and led to more piloting of Urban HEART in more cities. After piloting Urban HEART was extensively reviewed and Version 1 was published in 2010.

Urban HEART is conceptualised by WHO as a tool for assessment and response to health equity issues at the city level. Urban HEART was designed to meet four criteria:

  • ease of use
  • comprehensive and inclusive
  • feasible and sustainable
  • links evidence to action

It’s a stepwise process with a lot of similarities to HIA. In contrast to HIA it doesn’t need a proposal (even a general one or options) to assess. Rather it allows municipalities to identify issues for action and responses at the city level, and in that way it’s more like a needs assessment or planning activity. It’s useful where some willingness to act on health already exists, so Healthy Cities is a useful basis for action. Higher-order support is always required (which may be less true for HIA?).

Data that informs Urban HEART is almost always spread across agencies – no single one holds or reports on even the core indicators. This means multiple permissions and interagency liaison is often required, which reiterates the need for higher-order permission and negotiation at the earliest stages. Whilst this is undoubtedly desirable for HIAs as well it hasn’t always been possible in my experience and HIAs often fly under the radar, at least in the early stages. I’m not sure that would be possible for Urban HEART but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The under-the-radar HIAs I’ve been involved in have often encountered resistance when their recommendations are presented. A clear, unambiguous mandate and imprimatur as a basis for proceeding isn’t a bad thing.

A survey of Consultation participants that was conducted in advance found that most participants thought Urban HEART works well overall, is easy to use and successfully links evidence to action, but is less successful at being comprehensive and organisationally sustainable.

Case studies from the City of Paranaque in the PhilippinesTehran in Iran and Indore in India provided a range of useful, practical lessons on the use of Urban HEART (and they were quite inspirational). The Inore case in particular modified the indicators in a way to suit the local context, in their case by ensuring that the indicators were all meaningful and comprehensible to anyone, from residents to national bureaucrats. The case studies also highlighted the need for Urban HEART to not be a one-off activity but as an activity that needs to be revisited/undertaken semi-regularly.

How should we stratify/disaggregate equity analyses?

One issue that was identified at the Consultation is whether looking at geography and sub-municipal spatial areas as the unit of analysis always appropriate? For example might gender, poverty or age at the city level be a more appropriate way of analysing health equity issues? This is a recognised tension because all health equity analyses should use gender and SES for stratification but cities are often focused on neighbourhoods and a spatial approach. In many ways it points to a bigger, perhaps more overtly political discussion about what do we mean by health equity?

Scaling up

It was noted that approaches scaling up Urban HEART might not be the same in all cases because it’s so linked to the scope and role of government, so this will vary markedly. Encouraging progress has been made internationally, as the map below illustrates.

urban heart world map

Questions arising from Day 1

  • How can we promote Urban HEART better?
  • How can we involve NGOs or the private sector? Should we?

My general reflections

  1. An issue I have encountered is the limited availability of *any* health indicators at the city/local government level, let alone sub-city levels, given that cities can be quite small in scale with limited resources in Federalist systems.
  2. The health sector will always need to be involved in the use of Urban HEART in some capacity because they hold the data, or some of the data, but they needn’t be a roadblock. A pragmatic approach to getting the best available data but to focus on response strategies and interventions helps.
  3. In some ways the most useful thing that health systems can do is to regularly report on a broad range of health indicators at city and sub-city (disaggregated) levels, so cities can pick up Urban HEART and other related approaches and run with them.