Informal Communities

Informal communities are subject to disparate incidences of exposures and vulnerabilities to disease when compared to the typical urban environment. This topic has high importance to the Urban+Health Initiative given the increased rise of informal communities across developing and developed nations.

A feature of informal communities is their lack of access to critical resources and formal infrastructures, like health care, sturdy homes, and adequate sanitation. These resources normally provide protective environmental and human health safeguards. The rapidly growing populations of informal urban environment and the unique risks they face make the need for timely action crucial. We are interested in characterizing the unique public health challenges and posing solutions to these unique urban landscapes.


Many program models in maternal health are based on rural experiences; there are few “best practices” specific to urban settings.  To develop this evidence base, Dr. Lynn Freedman and the Averting Maternal Death and Disability program (AMDD) are increasingly including slum settings in their research.  For example, AMDD recently partnered with BRAC in Bangladesh to conduct a year-long study of BRAC’s Manoshi program, which provides access to maternal and newborn services in urban slums. AMDD studied Manoshi’s success in improving health outcomes by exploring how program activities interacted with theunique slum context to deliver innovative maternal and newborn health interventions.


Funded by the Medtronic Foundation, Dr. Gina Lovasi is leading an interdisciplinary team of global researchers to address the lack of reliable health and mobility data in Rio das Pedras, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio das Pedras is an informal settlement, called a favela that houses over 63,500 people. The researchers will study the mobility and microbiome of residents in order to highlight potential areas of intervention. This is a necessary task, as informal settlements often face unique challenges such as limited access to services, dangerous vehicle traffic, overcrowding, and poverty. In Rio das Pedras, these problems are further complicated by seasonal flooding and open sewer systems. The team is set out to assess these potential exposures and create a health profile of the population.