TEHRAN (Iran News) – Sahand, a new town in the northwestern East Azarbaijan Province, has just been awarded as the first healthy city in Iran under the World Health Organization’s Healthy Cities Program.
The award was officially presented during a formal ceremony on Tuesday, by WHO Representative to Iran Syed Jaffar Hussain to the Ministry of Health and Medical Sciences of Iran and Governorship of Osku County in the virtual presence of WHO Regional Director for Eastern Mediterranean Office Ahmed Al-Mandhari.
The ceremony was attended by Health Minister Saeed Namaki, and he cited various factors of a healthy city. The website of the National Healthy Cities Network was also unveiled at the event.
The awarding is an important milestone for Iran and in WHO’s Healthy Cities Program in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, as Iran was the first country in the region to adopt the program for implementation in 1991 in three settlements in Tehran.
Iran is also among the countries with the highest number of registered cities in the Regional Healthy Cities Network (RHCN). Currently, 22 Iranian cities are registered in the RHCN. Sahand is the first city among the registered ones to be evaluated by WHO and receive the three-year Healthy City Award.
Sahand is located 20km southwest of Tabriz, with a population of about 161,000. The city is still being developed with a steadily growing population, and it is expected to feature future-proof urban spaces and services.
The healthy city program in Sahand started in 2015 with the vision to create “a safe and healthy community for the happy livelihood of every person”.
A final evaluation visit was conducted on May 23-25 by experts from the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office to assess the city’s “Healthy City” eligibility. The visit was the second, and final, part of the assessment as the first part was conducted through a virtual desk review in December 2020 due to restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual desk review was the first of its kind to be performed during the Healthy Cities evaluation process against the backdrop of COVID-19.
A Healthy City should meet at least 80 percent of the 80 indicators recognized by WHO, ranging from socio-economic measures, governance, and increasing potentials to institutional transformation and cooperation based on planning and implementing innovative projects. Sahand, as per the evaluation outcome, achieved 74 out of 80 Key Performance indicators (92.5%).
“I see Sahand has succeeded in transforming itself from a city where everybody was working alone to a city where everybody is working towards a healthy community, a healthy environment, and a healthy lifestyle,” said El-adawy, Director of Healthier Populations, after the visit. “I observed this in many aspects and places we visited, and in the attitude of the people we have met. Within the whole city, as we were moving around and visiting different communities, I could see the changes and focus of everybody on health and well-being”.
WHO promotes Healthy Cities by awarding, and endorsing, flagship cities such as Sahand, and by establishing National Healthy Cities Networks, which bring together healthy cities across countries through local capacity building, monitoring, implementation, and exchanging experiences. In both cases, WHO provides strategic, and technical support as well as capacity-building at the national and local levels.
Sahand has already received certification from International Safe Communities in 2019 and integrated the initiative into the healthy city program context. Iran plans to expand the Healthy Cities Program to cover 100 more cities across Iran through a National Healthy Cities Network.
“Sahand has been implementing the healthy city program during the last six years and now has reached a level of maturity. Hopefully, we can make Sahand a role model for other cities in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Mohammad Assai, WHO consultant and senior public health advisor. “Political commitment, community participation, and ownership are visible in all projects we visited.”
As a healthy city, Sahand prioritizes developing and improving healthcare, environmental services, safe water supply, optimization of the environment, addressing pollution, and improving housing. It ultimately aims to promote high-impact, unified community engagement by raising awareness and realizing the untapped potential of communities at the local and national levels. The Healthy Cities program ensures that health is the hallmark of economic, social, and political agendas, and thereby boosts the participatory morale of all stakeholders and mobilizes potential resources.
An important element in Sahand’s Healthy City development is to empower women (49.5% of the population) in collaboration with the governor’s office, health networks, municipal entities, the social protection sector, and civil society organizations. They have multiple community-led initiatives and programs for the socio-economic empowerment of vulnerable populations, including the elderly, people living with disabilities, women-headed households, children, etc. The services provided in Sahand are inclusive and accessible for all.
“I am optimistic because I have seen a very high level of commitment. Not only at the political level, but also of each individual in Sahand that I have met,” said ElFeky, Technical Officer of Community-Based Initiatives and Healthy Settings (CBI) in WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, during her visit to the city. “They can only transfer that passion, and I’m sure that it will be sustained.”