First International Philanthropy Conference Focuses on Metropolitan Social Issues in Asia

On September 22, the Hong Kong Jockey Club launched the “Philanthropy for Better Cities Forum,” bringing together industry experts, policymakers, leaders and practitioners across the Asia Pacific to discuss the role of private philanthropy in solving metropolitan social issues. The forum focused on five cross-cutting issues in urban development, including public–private partnerships; innovation and technology; aging and health; youth and education; and environment and sustainability. Speakers included Michael Porter, Harvard Business School; Pony Ma, Chairman and CEO, Tencent; and the Honourable John C Tsang, Financial Secretary of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Creating better cities in the Asia Pacific must include putting an end to the TB epidemic: this region has more new TB cases each year than any other region globally. Serious questions face city planners coping with the impact of growing—and aging—populations. Overcrowding is a well-known factor in the spread of airborne diseases like TB. Asian cities in particular have a large migrant worker population who leave the countryside to join the wage economy in main towns and cities. Such populations often live in conditions that facilitate the transmission and impede the diagnosis and proper treatment of TB. Urbanization is also tied to an increase in non-communicable diseases. In China, for example, the rate of diabetes has exploded from 5% to 10% of adults over the last few decades—increasing susceptibility to TB in this population while simultaneously reducing the efficacy of TB treatment.   

TB has a particular impact on urban elderly people. According to research presented at the Fourth Global Forum on TB Vaccines, infections in the elderly are predicted to make up more than 50% of TB transmission in China, rising from 18% to 53%. The TB burden in the elderly is also predicted to increase from 13% to 71% of all new cases between 1990 and 2050. Dr. Sharon Chan, Head of Asia, Aeras, notes: “We are seeing the linkage between rapid urbanization and spread of TB in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly among the elderly. We know that vaccines are one part the strategy to control and prevent TB, but we're learning that we also must work with local and regional city planners to understand interactions between communities. Where people live, the type of transportation they use, the lifestyle they live and the proximity to medical care all matter when we're working to prevent a disease that can travel easily from an infected person.”

Dr Alex Ng, Deputy Director of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation China Country Office, commented during a panel discussion: “For infectious diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, urbanization without adequate health systems will increase the prevalence of these pandemics. Vaccines are crucial in combating these deadly infectious diseases. Additionally, prevention strategies must account for reaching populations across vast urban areas and some of the most neglected communities living in overcrowded and low-cost dwellings.” 

We believe it is critical that efforts and policies in controlling and preventing TB are incorporated into planning better cities.