What do crowded living spaces, mud walls, and poor access to water and sanitation have in common? They all negatively affect community health. In recognition of World Health Day, we acknowledge the need to focus on land and shelter in order to prevent the spread of disease. Too many people worldwide lack the most basic physical, economic and psychological security of adequate shelter. One billion people around the world live in slums, and this number is expected to double by 2030. Because of the rapid growth of urbanization, the number of people living in cities is increasing. As urban populations continue to rise, negative consequences will emerge - including the introduction and exacerbation of global health problems.
Health and housing are interconnected. The United Nations once estimated that 10 million people worldwide die each year from conditions related to substandard housing. Individuals with adequate shelter are less likely to contract disease because they have proper sanitation facilities, more living space for each person, and preventative measures against insects and rodents that harbor disease.
Diseases like HIV/AIDs and malaria disproportionately affect those who lack secure housing, with women and children bearing a heavy share of this burden due to lack of land rights and ownership. Implementation of rights is also a huge issue, as customary practices supersede legal rights in many countries. This lack of access to adequate housing and proper sanitation puts those who are uninfected at risk of contracting the disease.
These problems are ongoing, but the good news is that so are efforts to address them. In several African countries, particularly those who are heaviest hit by HIV/AIDS, tenure education programs aim to provide education about inheritance rights, referrals for legal advice, and assist with the creation of wills. NGOs in many areas, including Habitat for Humanity, are also working to influence legislation to improve land and property rights. These programs protect women and children in the event of the loss of a male head of household in traditionally patriarchal societies, securing their land and preventing it from being seized by relatives.
In order to make improvements when it comes to global health, policies integrating health and housing are vital. In many countries, Habitat for Humanity organizations and partners implementing the Solid Ground campaign, are supporting health outcomes by improving access to land for shelter. That is why this World Health Day, we acknowledge the impact of housing on global health. You can help us to address both issues.