Following the request from a number of Member States, WHO released its first ever guidelines linking housing and health on Nov 23. The guidance provides the best evidence for six priority topics—crowding, low indoor temperatures, insulation, high indoor temperatures, injury hazards, and housing accessibility—compiled in six systematic reviews commissioned for this report.
That poor housing can have a negative impact on health has been demonstrated before. For example, the Lancet series on the health of people who live in slums, published in October, 2016, showed that people living in slums are at high risks of infection and injury. The data compiled for these guidelines reinforce these findings. Crowding is associated with an increased risk of infectious disease, maintaining indoor temperature over 18°C reduces the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory mortality and morbidity, and high indoor temperatures increase mortality.
The guidelines’ recommendations are largely practical and uncontentious: for instance, extreme indoor temperatures can be controlled with thermal isolation and ventilation or household crowding can be reduced by making housing available and affordable. But where these guidelines mark a step forward is that they acknowledge that implementing these recommendations will require national, regional, and local governments to establish truly intersectoral collaborations engaging public, private, and civil society actors such as architects, urban planners, social housing services, consumer protecting agencies, and the building industry.
These guidelines show that the impact of poor housing on health is a matter of international concern. As the world population is growing and ageing and the effects of climate change are felt, designing cross-sectoral interventions addressing poor housing will be crucial if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on health (SDG 3) and sustainable cities (SDG 11). Going forward, health must remain a central consideration to meet future global housing needs.