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Mayors from Partnership for Healthy Cities Network Convene During Launch of New Virtual Series to Help Inform Their COVID-19 Response

Supported by the Bloomberg Philanthropies COVID-19 Global Response Initiative, first webinar of the series features Freetown, Sierra Leone Mayor

NEW YORK, NY — Executives and representatives from 24 cities around the world today joined the inaugural Bloomberg Philanthropies Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 webinar series for mayors. This virtual convening—the first in an ongoing series that is  part of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ COVID-19 Global Response Initiative—provided city leaders with guidance on how to implement best-practice COVID-19 interventions, such as physical distancing measures, in ways that are appropriate to each municipality and effective in gaining acceptance from the community, while minimizing social and economic impacts.

The session also provided a venue for an exchange of COVID-19 experiences and strategies among mayors. Participants heard the experience of Freetown, Sierra Leone—a city whose executive leadership acted quickly to address the COVID-19 threat.

The Partnership for Healthy Cities, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Vital Strategies, is a global network of 70 cities committed to saving lives by preventing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease and cancer, and injuries. Given the urgency cities face in protecting their residents from the current pandemic, the Partnership recently expanded and activated its network to respond to COVID-19.

“As city leaders around the world face down one of this century’s greatest challenges, we’re working to ensure they have the support and public health guidance they need to take action,” said Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term Mayor of New York City. “Our webinar series, and the efforts of our Partnership for Healthy Cities network, are helping mayors share experiences and craft policies that contain the pandemic and save lives.”

Dr. Kelly Henning, who leads the public health program at Bloomberg Philanthropies, welcomed the mayors at this morning’s webinar, saying, “We’ve seen that mayors around the world are vitally important for the global COVID-19 response. You are on the frontlines against the disease. It has never been more urgent to be well-informed and to act boldly to save lives in your cities.”

Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, and the former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Commissioner of Health for the City of New York, advised the mayors on the role that cities and public health experts play in responding to epidemics, saying “Mayoral leadership is crucially important. Cities are particularly hard hit but have the ability to serve as pathfinders other cities and countries.” He described criteria mayors should consider when making decisions about which public health social measures to implement, when to implement them and how to determine if they’re effective. Dr. Frieden closed with the counsel that, “Data can allow us to act quickly, save lives, and minimize social and economic disruption.”

Amanda McClelland, Senior Vice President of the Prevent Epidemics Team at Resolve to Save Lives, provided a global COVID-19 situation update, noting that “Across the globe, cities are taking the lead in adapting and supporting communities to be able to control the rate of spread.” As cities work to implement public health and social measures, McClelland noted the importance of stacking individual measures, such as handwashing and respiratory etiquette, with community-focused layers like the cancellation of mass gatherings and citywide shelter-in-place orders, to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

The virtual convening shined a spotlight on the response to COVID-19 by a city in West Africa. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, shared that the rates of infection from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been low in Freetown, but the city is under partial lockdown nonetheless. The mayor’s experience with the Ebola epidemic in her country in 2014 spurred her to address the current pandemic early. Among actions her city has taken are putting special facilities for handwashing in public places and adjusting the operations of public markets to facilitate physical distancing. Mayor Aki-Sawyerr is also working to reduce the financial burden on the city’s poorest through tax abatements and a number of food security measures.

“Freetown, like many cities in Africa, has been grappling with issues of high population density, inadequate water supply and high poverty levels before COVID-19 outbreak,” said Mayor Aki-Sawyerr. “The classic response to COVID – handwashing, social distancing, lockdowns – becomes a huge challenge in our context. As a city, we are implementing lessons learned from our country’s 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, and together as Freetonians we are going to win the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Mayors with the Partnership for Healthy Cities will have the opportunity to join more high-level COVID-19 response virtual convenings. Each weekly session will provide up-to-date information about the pandemic, a strategic focus on city level actions that can be taken to address it and an opportunity for the direct exchange of ideas, challenges and solutions.

The Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 webinar series is part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies COVID-19 Response Initiatives, which were launched in March to give public health professionals and local leaders around the world the tools to protect themselves and the public, and help mitigate the kind of economic and social damage that could make this crisis even more debilitating for families and communities.

The $40 million Bloomberg Philanthropies COVID-19 Global Response Initiative was announced on March 17. It partners with Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of the global health organization Vital Strategies and the World Health Organization, to help lower-income countries and cities respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Resolve to Save Lives works with countries to prevent 100 million deaths from cardiovascular disease and to make the world safer from epidemics. To date, 14 countries in Africa have received “rapid response” funding to procure supplies and equipment. They are also receiving weekly scientific briefs on emerging evidence about the virus and, as of this week, weekly legal and advocacy briefs on implementing public health measures. Vital Strategies is also creating radio advertisements to boost public awareness about physical distancing and have completed webinars on social distancing implementation in conjunction with WHO and Africa CDC.

The initiative also launched the Partnership for Healthy Cities COVID-19 Response Center, an online platform sharing the latest city-focused practical guidance and tools to support cities in four technical areas: disease surveillance and epidemiologic analysis; risk communication and public information campaign development; legal authority analysis and guidance; and public health and social measures.

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About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in more than 570 cities and over 160 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $3.3 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org or follow us on FacebookInstagramYouTube and Twitter.

About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.

Media Contact 
Jean Weinberg, +1-332-201-0508/ jean@bloomberg.org