oni1_y FABRICE COFFRINIAFP via Getty Images_health for all Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

A Marshall Plan for Planetary Health

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, and 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.

The near-universal focus on health prompted by the pandemic presents an opportunity to mobilize all sectors of society toward embracing proactive approaches to inclusive wellbeing. Building resilient and sustainable systems for health, particularly in the context of cities and urban development, will be key in this regard.

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.

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