Opening remarks by Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, WHO Representative in China, at the Healthy City Forum in Chongqing


Chongqing, China
10 June 2014

I am very happy to be here with you today at this forum on Healthy Cities, organized by the Chongqing Municipal Government.

I am particularly happy that Vice Mayor Liu Wei has taken such strong leadership personally. Just now Vice Mayor Liu Wei and I had a short but very productive meeting. Mr Liu Wei is very committed to the health of Chongqing people and very supportive of WAHI and Healthy City projects.

I am humbled that he and all the distinguished leaders are here today giving me the opportunity to share some thoughts. I should like to congratulate everyone involved in the organization of today’s meeting – the Municipal Government under Vice Mayor Liu Wei’s leadership, the Chongqing Patriotic Health Campaign Committee, colleagues from Shanghai, Zhejiang Province, districts and counties of Chongqing, and many of you in this room here today.

There is nothing more important than health - for all people, all of us, our children, families and friends. And health is so closely linked to the environment we live, work and study. And at its heart, that is what the Healthy Cities movement is about: making the places we live, work and study healthier places to be.

I have come here today to discuss with you, and to think with you, how we can make our world, our societies and our cities more healthy.

When we talk about health we often think about disease. When we talk about the health system, we think about doctors and hospitals.

All this is important. We do need good doctors like many of you in this room today. And we do need better and affordable hospitals and clinics.

But talking about health, we need to think beyond doctors and hospitals. These things are linked to disease, and by definition should constitute a last resort.

Of course, a healthy city needs to have clinics and doctors that are accessible to everybody. But unless we focus on how we can keep our communities and our people healthy, we will never reach a healthy city!

Protecting our health must include many elements. Those that are less under our direct control, as much as the choices that we, every one of us takes every day and every hour.

Do we have the space we need to engage in physical activity? Do we have the air that we can breathe without causing health damage, including cancer? Do we have clean water to drink and appropriate sanitation?

Many of these issues require significant effort and may take time to fix.

But then there are the choices that we take every day and every hour. The decision to walk up the stairs rather than taking the elevator. The choice to use the bus or the bike rather than getting into the car. The choice of food we eat. And the choice to smoke a cigarette.

One thing is clear: to address the health challenges, and to keep ourselves, our families and communities healthy and productive – this cannot be the responsibility of just one sector. We cannot just delegate health to the doctors in the hope that they can fix it when we fall sick.

To protect health we need everybody! We need the different sectors to work together towards one common goal. And there cannot be a better common goal than health.

This is at the heart of the healthy city movement. And this is why I am so happy to see all of you here today, representing so many different sectors and departments, from government to private sector, from leaders to community representatives. Thinking together how we can make our cities and our environment more healthy.

I am impressed by the leadership that I see, starting at the top with the Vice Mayor of Chongqing, with all of you here.

Creating a healthy city is about leadership as much as it is about technical programmes. And seeing all of you here gives me confidence that Chongqing, and the provinces and cities presenting today, can be world leaders in health.

But we now need to move to the next level, to create a movement around the concept of Healthy Cities, so that the benefits of living in a Healthy City can be made available to the hundreds of millions of Chinese, in every corner of the country.

To create a movement we need concrete goals and success. We need progress in areas where we know we can act now, that help to create a groundswell of support and momentum for further change.

And so I want to end my speech today with a challenge, which I hope the Municipal Government of Chongqing and the Chongqing Patriotic Health Committee will accept: let’s pledge today, to make Chongqing a smoke-free city.

Tobacco is a critical public health issue for China -- 1 million deaths per year now, which will massively increase in the future without action to reduce smoking rates. And we know tobacco use is a particularly big issue in the western provinces like Chongqing.

But the good news is that we know what to do about it: and making all public places in Chongqing smoke-free would be an excellent start.

We need to make all indoor public places smoke-free: offices, hotels, restaurants, bars, other places where people gather. All smoke-free -- no loopholes, no exceptions, no excuses.

This is the only way to protect the people of this city from the toxic harms of second-hand smoke. There is no other way: there is simply no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke.

If this is achieved, it would be a flagship achievement for Chongqing’s Healthy City program – and a brilliant example for other Healthy Cities to follow.

And there is no reason it cannot be done: the other major municipalities – Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai – are all moving in this direction. We are very glad to hear that Nanning just released new regulations to ban smoking in 12 kinds of public places. I would like to congratulate colleagues from Nanning for this big step forward and please share your experience with Chongqing. Let’s make sure Chongqing doesn’t get left behind.

Dear colleagues and friends: your challenges are many! And many are not unique to Chongqing. What is unique is the leadership and the commitment to address these challenges. Let us join hands and realize the dream of a truly healthy city. Let us put Chongqing and all of you here today at the forefront of a movement that should eventually reach all Chinese cities, villages and communities.

And I hope you will accept my challenge to move on making all of Chongqing smoke-free, so that the great city of Chongqing can become even greater.

You have WHO’s full support in this effort. Let’s all pledge to work together to make this goal a reality.

Thank you.