Driving health equity for cities and communities: the work of Belo Horizonte’s urban observatory

Having the relevant data should be the starting point for an effective urban health policy for city residents – yet it seems this is often not the case.

Waleska Teixeira Caiaffa's picture
Professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais and coordinator of the Belo Horizonte Observatory for Urban Health
26 June 2024
The transition to a predominantly urban world
A series of insights and interviews designed to share the experiences of community leaders, professionals, researchers and government from the global South
Drone image of Raul Soares Square in State of Minas Gerais, Brazil

Raul Soares Square in Minas Gerais, Brazil (Photo: Luiz Felipe S. C. via Unsplash)

Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais state, is among Brazil's largest and most successful cities with 2.3 million inhabitants and a total of six million in its greater metropolitan area. 

As with other cities, it can be seen as a living organism where health intersects with urban life in multi-faceted ways. Any effective urban health programme depends on understanding these intricate dynamics right down to the city, sub-city and community level and, where relevant, household and individual level too.

Located within the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), the observatory is known for its research, analysis and advocacy skills dedicated to deciphering the urban health landscape of Belo Horizonte – combining knowledge with action.

Understanding urban health dynamics

In a rapidly evolving urban environment such as Belo Horizonte, health outcomes are deeply intertwined with social, economic and environmental factors. 

OSUBH takes a holistic approach to untangling these complexities, using a wide array of methodologies ranging from epidemiological, qualitative and systematic field observation studies, to spatial analysis. The range of OSUBH’s work can be seen in the box of recent projects below.

By mapping health indicators against socio-demographic variables and urban infrastructure, OSUBH documents disparities in health care access, disease burden and environmental risks across different neighbourhoods. Such insights not only inform evidence-based policymaking, but also empower communities to advocate for their health rights.

Mission and commitment

The observatory also serves as a nexus for fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders. Through partnerships with local, national and international agencies, healthcare providers and grassroots organisations, OSUBH facilitates knowledge exchange, capacity building and collaborative research initiatives aimed at addressing pressing urban health challenges – including climate change. It is no surprise to see three of the initiatives address climate change issues.

It actively engages with the broader community through outreach programmes, public seminars and participatory research projects. By democratising access to information and fostering dialogue, the observatory empowers citizens to actively participate in shaping the urban health agenda of their city.

At the core of OSUBH's mission lies a commitment to drive policy reform and advocacy actions that promote health equity and sustainable urban development. By generating robust evidence, conducting well-designed studies, and advocating for evidence-informed policies, OSUBH strives to influence decision-makers at local, regional and national level.

Empowering communities for health and resilience

Beyond research and advocacy, OSUBH is deeply committed to empowering communities to become agents of change. Through community-based participatory research projects, urban health education initiatives and capacity-building programmes, OSUBH equips academics, students and residents with the knowledge, skills and resources needed to address health disparities and build resilient communities.

By fostering a culture of collaboration, innovation and inclusivity, the observatory drives transformative change across disciplinary boundaries and fosters a more equitable and health-conscious urban landscape in Belo Horizonte.

Charting a path towards urban health equity

In a rapidly urbanising world, the search for urban health equity has never been more urgent. As we navigate the complexities of urbanisation, institutions like OSUBH provide pathways towards a healthier, fairer future – the vision of a city with a healthy population, resilient communities and where equity reigns supreme.

Thanks to the OSUBH team, which also contributed to this insight.

About the author

Waleska Teixeira Caiaffa is professor of epidemiology and public health at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil and coordinator of the Belo Horizonte Observatory for Urban Health.

Waleska Teixeira Caiaffa's picture