The world's population is nearly 7 billion, about half are urban dwellers. In less than 20 years, experts predict that some 5 billion people will live in cities.
Already, there are at least 21 mega-cities, those with populations in excess of 10 million - among them Tokyo, Seoul, and New York. According to the United Nations Population Fund, though, most future urban growth will take place in smaller towns of Asia and Africa, which have fewer resources to respond to the magnitude of the change.
The challenges of urban migration will greatly affect society and global healthcare policy. They will also demand greater urgency for innovative new medications, services, and technologies.
All segments of the healthcare systems are likely to be affected:
- Preventive care services will be needed to stem chronic diseases that will affect an aging world and strain national economies.
- Acute care services will be sought in emergency rooms, clinics, and community centers, as urban crowding increases the spread of infectious disease, air pollution-related lung ailments, water- and food-borne illnesses, and the risk of vehicle accidents on jammed city streets.
- Health literacy needs will rise as patients seek to access appropriate care through health services, as well as advanced technologies to provide services at home.
Action must happen now to prevent these looming challenges from colliding with a dangerous shortage of healthcare workers. The World Health Organization says an estimated 4.2 million health providers and many additional hospitals are needed, especially in large urban areas where city living is causing problems.
The magnitude of the healthcare shortage requires unprecedented collaboration among leaders of governments, industry, NGOs, and local communities to assure fair distribution of resources to improve living conditions.
To help clients connect with their customers and the wider public in a changing demographic, our outreach strategies must change. We must actively anticipate specific challenges facing clients and assertively seize the myriad opportunities to address them, using new communications tools, creative design, and targeted messaging.
We can help clients take leadership roles in the planning of health policy by encouraging them to develop strategies that offer real value - and then communicate their impact effectively.
Jeanine O'Kane is SVP and North America healthcare director at MSLGroup.