How the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Aim to Improve Global Health

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“Good health underpins almost everything that people want,” said Christopher Dye and Shambhu Acharya of the World Health Organization. And that good health is “a precondition for, an outcome and measure of, sustainable development.” The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, which replaced the Millennium Development Goals, will direct worldwide development for the next 15 years They will determine the road toward solutions for the many modern global health issues. The U.N. has 17 total Sustainable Development Goals (often referred to as SDGs) that were set after substantial research and careful analysis. All of them aim to stimulate global development. While goals focus on different areas of development, many overlap, especially in regard to improving global health. For modern health professionals, the Sustainable Development Goals will likely determine the future of their work and will provide them the opportunity to participate in the global effort to improve health for all. Here are a few ways the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals will improve global health.

Improving Global Health

Sustainable Development Goal 3, “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages,” perhaps most explicitly focuses on global health in general, while some of the other SDGs address factors that certainly influence global well-being. The U.N. purports that this goal is “essential to sustainable development,” since development and innovation as a whole can only be achieved by a healthy and cared-for population. While life expectancy, access to clean water, and containment of diseases have all improved in recent decades, the U.N. is aiming to “fully eradicate a wide range of diseases” and combat “different persistent and emerging health issues.” Included in this third SDG are many specific measurable goals, including:

  • “By 2030, reduce the global maternity mortality rate to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.”
  • “By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents.”
  • “By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services.”
  • “By 2030,” substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination.”

Other aspects of this SDG aim to “strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse,” achieve universal health care coverage, and much more.

Improving Water Care and Availability

The third SDG is not the only goal that will directly impact global health. The sixth goal, “Ensure access to water and sanitation for all,” seeks to combat “bad economics” and “poor infrastructure” to prevent the diseases that take millions of lives each year. According to the U.N., water shortage and poor quality also adversely affect “food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for families across the world.” This goal is especially relevant because, according to the U.N.’s projections, “one in four people is likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring shortages of fresh water” by 2050. With such consequences only a few decades away, the U.N. recognizes that the world must begin making changes now, starting with the specific targets outlined in this SDG:

  • By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, such as mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes.
  • By 2030, improve water sanctity by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping, and increasing recycling and safe reuse on a global scale.
  • By 2030, create access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, while specifically “addressing the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”

The SDGs also illustrate the U.N.’s understanding that instruction will most benefit those struggling to maintain an adequate, healthy water supply. One of the sixth SDG’s most significant goals is to “support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.” Such instruction will contribute to long-term stimulation of water care.

Improving Nutrition and Hunger

The SDGs not only seek to reduce disease and increase sanitation but also to ensure sustenance across the world. Under SDG 2, which is “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” the U.N. states, “it is time to rethink how we grow, share and consume our food.” Because our ecosystem is rapidly degrading and climate change is “putting even more pressure on the resources we depend on,” the U.N. recognizes the need for a “profound change of the global food and agriculture system.” According to the U.N., if we use our agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in an efficient, thoughtful manner, we can “provide nutritious food for all and generate decent incomes,” nourishing the current 795 million hungry and providing resources to rural men and women who have recently been unable to make enough off their land. Here are a few of this SDG’s targets:

  • “By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular, the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.”
  • “By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons.”
  • As with establishing water preservation practices in communities, by 2030, the U.N. aims to “ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.”

The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals recognize that the responsibilities shared between individuals are not defined by national borders and that we must all make a concerted effort to improve the well-being of humanity. Whether public health has been a part of your life for decades or you’re new to the field, your efforts can contribute to meeting the SDG’s targets. If you’re interested in participating in the U.N.’s efforts, visit the Keck School of Medicine of USC to learn more about the only online Master of Public Health associated with a top-ranked medical school.