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Sat Aug 1, 2020, 02:53 AM

'A Marshall Plan For Planetary Health': COVID Havoc Shows Need For Ambitious Reforms, New Approaches

'A Marshall Plan for Planetary Health.' By Tollullah Oni. Project Syndicate, July 24, 2020. The devastating impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need for ambitious, all-encompassing reforms rather than incremental, piecemeal measures. A global scheme to improve planetary health would constitute a radical new approach, & would be an important step toward safeguarding the future of fast-growing cities.

CAMBRIDGE – The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened awareness of the significant flaws in our urban infrastructure, and highlighted our lack of attention to how human health, natural systems, and the built environment interact to determine planetary health. It is now clear that our economic system increases food insecurity, our streets prioritize motorized traffic over physical exercise, and our houses increase the risk of disease transmission. We can, and must, do better, by launching a bold new investment program for planetary health.

At best, the failure fully to address the adverse implications of today’s built environments represents a missed opportunity to enable healthy communities. At worst, it actively contributes to disease risk and transmission. In the United Kingdom, for example, the higher COVID-19 mortality in poor people has illustrated the short-sightedness of housing policies that fail to place health and ecological considerations at their center.

One positive feature of the current crisis has been the rapid adoption of innovative measures (including versions of universal income) to mitigate the pandemic’s immediate economic impact. This shows that we can address systemic failures quickly when the will exists. Likewise, we must radically reimagine our built environments so that they both strengthen the immediate pandemic response and serve as vehicles for improving long-term health. And while cities will be the primary testing ground for reforms to promote health and wellbeing, it will also be necessary to overhaul existing health governance systems.

Although several global philanthropic initiatives have sought to improve urban health and resilience, undoubtedly with positive results, today’s flawed systems need more fundamental disruption. Simply put, the world needs a new Marshall Plan for planetary health – akin to a New Deal for a post-pandemic recovery...

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- Tolullah "Tolu" Oni (born 1980) is an urban epidemiologist at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge. She is a NextEinstein Forum Fellow and World Economic Forum Young Global Leader.

Research and career: Oni worked in South Africa, where she established an interdisciplinary program Research Initiative for Cities Health and Equity (RICHE) at the University of Cape Town in 2007. RICHE works on urban health, identifying opportunities to implement public health policies in fast growing cities..Oni was made a Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town. Here, she developed the University of Cape Town's first undergraduate degree in global health..
She moved to the University of Cambridge, where she joined the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit as a Senior Research Fellow. Here she is a member of the Global Diet and Activity Research Group and Network (GDAR) network, which works to prevent non-communicable diseases in low-income countries.

Public engagement and policy: Oni has presented at the United Nations, the World Health Organization and World Economic Forum. Onu is a board of Future Earth and the African Academy of Sciences platform for open research. Oni is a Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, and was elected a Fellow of NextEinstein in 2015 and the Stellenbosch University Institute for Advanced Study in 2017. She was elected one of the Co-Chairs of the Global Young Academy in 2018. Oni serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Urban Health and The Lancet's Planetary Health. She has written for The Conversation. Oni serves as a judge for the Nature Inspiring Science Award...

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