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Built Environment and Pandemics

Built environment such as homes, offices, buildings, open spaces, sidewalks, and transportation options has a direct impact on human health. Healthy built environments have services and resources that contribute to the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of the people who occupy it. An analysis of the existing built environments shows that they are not structured to promote human health. Consequently, human beings have suffered dire consequences during pandemics in the 21st century. If built environments are not adapted to the needs of people, they will continue to contribute to the poor health of the population, especially during pandemics.

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Physical structures and infrastructure should be built with consideration for the different ways in which infectious diseases can be transmitted. This includes person-to-person contact, bodily fluids, airborne transmission, and droplet transmission (Pinter-Wollman et al., 2018). The structures should then be constructed in a manner that would curtail the spread of the pathogens. For instance, to minimize the spread of airborne infections such as influenza, buildings should include air cleaning and ventilation systems. Therefore, homes, hospitals, offices, and other public facilities should be constructed with such provisions.

Some of the pathogens that cause pandemics, such as H1N1 virus and SARS-CoV-2, are transmitted faster in crowded spaces. To reduce the spread of such pathogens, built environments should be structured in a way that minimizes person-to-person contact. The existence of green parks and open fields minimizes crowding. They also provide relaxation areas for people, which contributes positively towards mental health during pandemics. Additionally, research shows that the choice of building material can help reduce the lifetime of the virus on surfaces such as walls, furniture, and counters (Pinheiro & Luís, 2020). Reducing the lifetime of a pathogen limits its ability to spread.

Aside from physical structures and open spaces, built environment also includes public facilities such as transportation and sidewalks. The structure of these facilities determine how fast an infectious agent spreads. For example, unidirectional street paths reduces contact between people since they are all moving in one direction (Pinheiro & Luís, 2020). Public transport facilities such as social distancing markers help to minimize contact between people. Communal disinfectant stations facilitate hand-washing, which is fundamental for sanitation purposes. Evidently, pathogens transmitted through airborne particles, droplets, and contact with an infected person can be contained more efficiently with the aid of well-designed infrastructure.

During this century, pandemics have been difficult to contain due to poorly built environment. Most places are not well-ventilated, which makes it easy for viruses to spread. Further, people live and work in crowded places that do not facilitate social distancing. This means that pandemics impact people to a more adverse extent than they would if they had healthy built environments (Cheshmehzangi, 2021). As a scientist presenting a report to the World Health Organization, I would recommend the creation of such environments as a top priority. I would use data from studies that show the impact of physical environment on health. I would cite various journals, research papers, and books that document irrefutable evidence of healthy built environment positively affecting physical and psychological health.

In the 21st century, it is essential to ensure that built environment support human health. There is overwhelming evidence that this is not the case presently. Consequently, people have died in high numbers during pandemics such as swine flu, Ebola, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. To decrease the number of deaths during pandemics, the World Health Organization should urge relevant stakeholders to establish healthy built environments.


Cheshmehzangi, A. (2021). Revisiting the built environment: 10 potential development changes and paradigm shifts due to COVID-19. Journal of Urban Management, 10(2), 166-175.

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Pinheiro, M. D., & Luís, N. C. (2020). COVID-19 could leverage a sustainable built environment. Sustainability, 12(14), 5863.

Pinter-Wollman, N., Jelić, A., & Wells, N. M. (2018). The impact of the built environment on health behaviours and disease transmission in social systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 373(1753), 20170245.

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