Social conditions and urban health inequities: realities, challenges and opportunities to transform the urban landscape through research and action

Author's Department

Social Research Center (SRC)

Second Author's Department

Social Research Center (SRC)

All Authors

V Nelly Salgado de Snyder, Sharon Friel, Jean Christophe Fotso, Zeinab Khadr, Sergio Meresman, Patricia Monge, Anita Patil-Deshmukh

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

J Urban Health

Publication Date

Winter 1-12-2011




The process of urbanization entails social improvements with the consequential better quality-of-life for urban residents. However, in many low-income and some middle-income countries, urbanization conveys inequality and exclusion, creating cities and dwellings characterized by poverty, overcrowded conditions, poor housing, severe pollution, and absence of basic services such as water and sanitation. Slums in large cities often have an absence of schools, transportation, health centers, recreational facilities, and other such amenities. Additionally, the persistence of certain conditions, such as poverty, ethnic heterogeneity, and high population turnover, contributes to a lowered ability of individuals and communities to control crime, vandalism, and violence. The social vulnerability in health is not a "natural" or predefined condition but occurs because of the unequal social context that surrounds the daily life of the disadvantaged, and often, socially excluded groups. Social exclusion of individuals and groups is a major threat to development, whether to the community social cohesion and economic prosperity or to the individual self-realization through lack of recognition and acceptance, powerlessness, economic vulnerability, ill health, diminished life experiences, and limited life prospects. In contrast, social inclusion is seen to be vital to the material, psychosocial, and political aspects of empowerment that underpin social well-being and equitable health. Successful experiences of cooperation and networking between slum-based organizations, grassroots groups, local and international NGOs, and city government are important mechanisms that can be replicated in urban settings of different low- and middle-income countries. With increasing urbanization, it is imperative to design health programs for the urban poor that take full advantage of the social resources and resourcefulness of their own communities.

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