Urban Health Initiative in Accra, Ghana

The Urban Health and Short-lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Project promotes air pollution reduction strategies by mobilizing and empowering the health sector, and by demonstrating the full range of health co-benefits that can be achieved from those strategies, particularly at the city level.

According to the latest World Health Organization data, in 2016 approximately 28,210 Ghanaians died prematurely from exposure to air pollution. Data from Ghana’s Environment Protection Agency show Accra’s average annual air pollution levels are about five times the WHO Guideline for fine particulate matter (PM2.5).

Household and ambient air pollution are among the top environmental health threats facing the country. Young children are plagued by a high rate of childhood pneumonia, due to spending long hours near wood and charcoal cookstoves. Older people bear the brunt of other air pollution-related diseases, such as heart attack, lung cancer and stroke.

Average annual air pollution levels are also strongly influenced by peaks experienced during seasonal dust storms. During other months of the year, Accra’s air quality is higher — with good potential for achieving even better results if city and national authorities can take firm action.


The Urban Health and SLCP Reduction Project has three major components:

  • Building evidence and tools
  • City implementation
  • Communications 

In Accra, the project focuses on the following sectors: household energy, transport, land use and waste, which were identified as priority areas during the initial stakeholder consultation. Local health evidence and analyses from the project will improve models that estimate health impacts of air pollution and short-lived climate pollutants in the city. The evidence produced will be used to communicate with and engage local partners and stakeholders to create demand for policies that reduce short-lived climate pollutant and air pollution emissions and provide health and climate benefits. 

Why we're doing this work

A key element of the Urban Health Initiative is to link environmental data on air pollution to health data about premature mortality and hospitalization costs. This is a key challenge facing governments around the world. Through this activity, Accra has been a pilot for the Urban Health Initiative (UHI) model process. This is an iterative process for integrating health into policymaking, with clean air and healthy citizens as its outcome. The process focuses on six levels of urban transformation to integrate health into policymaking as follows:

  • Mapping the current situation, stakeholders, policies and decision-making processes
  • Adapting and applying health and economic tools in the local context
  • Developing and testing policy scenarios
  • Building capacity to effectively engage policy-makers
  • Communication and outreach to sustain and mobilize support
  • Monitoring results and refining policy

What we're doing

The WHO is developing guidance and tools to assess, plan and finance healthy and climate-adapted cities; and assess the full range of health and economic impacts from sector policies and air quality interventions.

Through this pilot project, Accra-specific data was collected by a broad group of local stakeholders supported by ICLEI and UN Habitat to increase understanding of air pollutants and their impacts using AirQ+; ITHIM; isThAT and SWEET tools.

A set of case studies for Accra is forthcoming on 1) ambient air pollution; 2) household energy; 3) transport; 4) waste management and 5) health economics. These sector specific case studies will be paired with a series of health issue briefings on the following topics: 1) how air pollution affects your body; 2) children, air pollution and health; and 3) green spaces and health.

WHO is also developing a training toolkit to strengthen the professional capacity of health workers to deal with air pollution and health-related issues. The toolkit includes information on the main air pollutants and their sources, the scientific evidence on mechanisms through which air pollutants undermine people’s health, the different policies and interventions that can be enforced to reduce ambient and household concentrations, and the important role of health workers. This toolkit considers different regional perspectives and will be tested with health workers in Accra.

Video: BreatheLife Accra launch event