Advancing Global Health for All
Unveiling of the target
Before the SDGs came to be, guidelines were provided through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs from 2000 to 2015 prioritised health protection as an integral part of the development agenda. Health-related goals such as reducing child mortality (MDG 4), improving maternal health (MDG 5), and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases (MDG 6) were emphasised. However, the MDGs primarily focused on targeting specific diseases or improving selected health indicators, whereas the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) take a broader perspective by aiming to strengthen health systems comprehensively. For instance, Target 3.8 of the SDGs is dedicated to achieving universal healthcare, reflecting the comprehensive approach towards health advocated by the SDGs.
A key element of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is Sustainable Development Goal 3 (SDG 3); Good Health and Well-being. Its main focus is on the overarching goal of promoting and ensuring healthy living for individuals of all ages. The SDG3 targets cover a wide range of health-related objectives, such as lowering maternal mortality, preventing infant and child mortality, ending the epidemics of communicable diseases, combating non-communicable diseases (NCDs), promoting mental health, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, achieve universal health coverage (UHC) and minimising the effects of dangerous chemicals and pollution.
Why it Matters
Let’s look closer at some happenings surrounding goal 3, to draw a clearer picture of why we need to take action in the first place. Based on SDG Report 2022
COVID-19 Impact: In 2020 and 2021, an estimated 14.9 million people lost their lives due to COVID-19 and its repercussions on health systems and society.
Interruptions in Health Services: A survey conducted at the end of 2021 reported that essential health services were disrupted in 92% of the 129 countries surveyed, highlighting the challenges faced during the pandemic.
Childhood Mortality: The global mortality rate of children under the age of 5 decreased by 14% from 2015 to 2020, showcasing progress in reducing child mortality.
Immunisation Gaps: In 2020, 1 million older children did not receive vaccines through routine immunisation programs, a significant increase from 13.6 million in 2019. Additionally, 7 million children missed out on vaccinations in 2020, the highest number since 2005.
Vaccine Disparities: As of May 2022, over 80% of people in high-income countries had received at least one vaccine dose, while the proportion in low-income countries stood at around 17%, highlighting vaccine inequities.
Skilled Birth Assistance: Between 2015 and 2021, approximately 84% of births were attended by skilled health professionals, an increase from 77% in 2008-2014, indicating progress in ensuring safe childbirth practices.
Child Mortality Reduction: In 2020, 5 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday, down from 5.9 million in 2015, indicating a decline in child mortality rates.
Adolescent Birth Rate: The adolescent birth rate dropped from 47.9 births per 1,000 adolescents aged 15 to 19 in 2010 to 41.2 births in 2020, demonstrating progress in reducing teenage pregnancies.
Universal Health Coverage: Global universal health coverage improved from a score of 45 out of 100 in 2000 to 67 in 2019, indicating advancements in providing accessible and affordable healthcare services.
HIV and AIDS: In 2020, an estimated 1.5 million people were newly diagnosed with HIV, and 680,000 individuals died from AIDS-related causes, emphasising the ongoing challenge of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Tuberculosis (TB): TB deaths increased from 1.2 million in 2019 to 1.3 million in 2020 due to disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the need for sustained efforts to combat TB.
Now that we understand the health-related situation in the world, it is important to note that taking action on SDG 3 holds significant importance for individuals, communities, and societies at large. Here's why!
Building Prosperous Societies: A society's prosperity is closely linked to the health and well-being of its population. When individuals are healthy, they can actively participate in economic activities, contribute to their communities, and drive sustainable development. Interconnectedness with Human Development: Health and well-being are interconnected with various aspects of human development. Access to quality healthcare, education, gender equality, poverty reduction, and environmental sustainability are all closely intertwined. Progress in SDG 3 can positively impact these interconnected goals, creating a ripple effect of advancement across multiple sectors.
Economic Benefits: Investing in global health is not just a moral imperative but also a smart economic strategy. A healthy population leads to increased productivity, reduced healthcare costs, and greater economic resilience. Moreover, investing in preventive measures and healthcare systems can help prevent and mitigate the impact of pandemics, which can have devastating economic consequences.
Social Justice and Equity: SDG 3 emphasises the importance of ensuring health and well-being for all, leaving no one behind. It addresses health disparities, promotes equity in access to healthcare services, and strives to overcome barriers faced by marginalised communities. By achieving SDG 3, societies can become more inclusive, just, and equitable.
Sustainable Development: Health and well-being are integral components of sustainable development. By investing in preventative healthcare, promoting healthy lifestyles, and strengthening healthcare systems, SDG 3 contributes to long-term sustainability. It fosters resilience in the face of health crises, protects the environment by addressing health-related challenges, and supports the overall wellbeing of present and future generations.
This should expand our opinion about SDG 3 as not only prioritising individual health but also acknowledging the broader societal and economic benefits of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being. The attainment of SDG 3 will consequently impact the realisation of targets in other SDGs, and enable the creation of prosperous societies, foster human development, achieve social justice, and build a sustainable future for all.
Progress & Challenges:
Since the passage of SDG 3, significant advancements have been made in some segments. Globally, maternal and infant mortality rates have decreased, and significant progress has been made in the fight against diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Numerous diseases that can be prevented by vaccination have been reduced due to improved vaccination rates. Additionally, there has been an increase in global awareness of NCDs, and prevention techniques are being put into practice on a global scale.
Despite the advancements, SDG 3 is still not fully realised due to several obstacles. Access to healthcare services remains unequal, especially in low-income nations and vulnerable people. Funding continues to be a significant problem for governments because there are few investment options focused on healthcare. Infectious illness outbreaks, like the COVID-19 pandemic, showed the brittleness of healthcare infrastructure and the necessity of adaptability and readiness. In addition, there are substantial issues that need to be resolved regarding the increase of NCDs, mental health issues, and the influence of environmental variables on health.
SDG 3 can't be accomplished in isolation and will require a comprehensive effort of working alongside the other interconnected SDGs, according to some expert opinion gathered by Trinity College Dublin. The primary determinants of health and well-being must be addressed to address goal 3, it was also emphasised. Therefore, factors such as socioeconomic status, income, etc.
The Way Forward
To advance SDG 3 and ensure good health and well-being for all, the following strategies can be prioritised by governments, NGOs, civil societies, businesses, and individuals:
Universal Health Coverage (UHC): Achieving UHC is vital to provide essential healthcare services to everyone, without financial hardship. This involves strengthening healthcare systems, increasing access to quality healthcare services, and addressing financial barriers through innovative financing mechanisms.
Prevention and Health Promotion: Emphasising preventive measures and health promotion is crucial in reducing the burden of diseases. This includes promoting healthy lifestyles, implementing early screening and detection programs, and addressing risk factors such as tobacco use, unhealthy diets, and sedentary lifestyles.
Strengthening Health Systems: Building resilient and responsive health systems is essential to address emerging health challenges. This includes improving healthcare infrastructure, ensuring an adequate healthcare workforce, strengthening surveillance systems, and enhancing access to medicines and technologies.
Addressing Health Inequalities: Tackling health inequalities requires a multi-sectoral approach. Governments, civil society organisations, and international partners need to collaborate to address social determinants of health, such as poverty, education, and gender inequality that contribute to health disparities.
Mental Health and Well-being: Promoting mental health and well-being should be integrated into healthcare systems and policies. This involves raising awareness, reducing stigma, increasing access to mental health services, and providing support for those affected by mental health disorders.
Global Health Partnerships: Strengthening global health partnerships is crucial for sharing knowledge, resources, and expertise. Collaborations between governments, international organisations, NGOs, and the private sector can leverage collective efforts to address global health challenges and promote innovation.
Research and Innovation: Investing in research and innovation is vital for advancing healthcare solutions. This includes developing new treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines, as well as fostering technology-driven approaches to improve healthcare delivery and access.
Conclusion: SDG 3 provides a comprehensive framework for addressing global health challenges and promoting well-being for all. It holds significant importance for individuals vested in the field of health to embrace their role as advocates earnestly, working to encourage other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prioritising the well-being of people. It's equally vital for them to acknowledge that they don't possess all-encompassing solutions for enhancing public health. Frequently, the factors influencing health lie outside the direct influence of healthcare professionals. The challenge isn't solely about treating the physical symptoms of malnutrition and then returning the individual to circumstances that led them there in the first place, likely resulting in a recurring cycle within a short span. The focal point should delve into the root cause behind the malnutrition. Malnutrition emerges as a consequence of broader developmental flaws; our approach to development has been flawed, and this has manifested in situations where certain families struggle to sustain their children.