The Sustainable Development Goals: A Prescription for the Health of All People and the Planet

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is universal and encourages equitable growth. It includes 17 interconnected sustainable development goals to be pursued through integrated action with a particular focus on the wellbeing of communities. The successful implementation of actions that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, in ways that are inclusive and leave no-one behind, will have a massive impact on people’s health everywhere. It offers an unprecedented opportunity for the global health community to ensure a healthier future for all. WHO has a key role to play.

18 January 2017

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the World Health Organization

The 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offers a truly transformative plan for people, planet, prosperity, partnership and peace. Integrating the social, economic, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, it is a blueprint for action across all three pillars of the United Nations’ work – peace and security, development, and human rights. The SDGs embrace the complexity of our daily experience and the real-world issues that confront governments worldwide. Implementation of the SDGs is starting to transform our approaches to development: this is leading to fundamental changes in the ways of thinking and acting, organizing and communicating, financing and reporting. 

We need a WHO that is well positioned to contribute to the implementation of the SDGs and will be central to their achievement. Not only is health a contributor to, amongst others, poverty reduction and gender equality, it is also a beneficiary of sustainable development in other sectors, and a powerful metric of progress across all three pillars of the UN.

The work of WHO is vital to the achievement of Goal 3: “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”, and its 13 associated targets. These targets cover a wide spectrum of WHO’s work, and their relationship is well summarized in the Declaration: “to promote physical and mental health and well-being and to extend life expectancy for all, we must achieve universal health coverage and access to quality health care. No one must be left behind….”. This formulation places Universal Health Coverage as a key target that is critical to the achievement of many others, including health equity.

The achievement of health targets set out in the SDGs will also be dependent on the decisions, policies and institutions in other sectors – as in the case of NCD risk factors, nutrition, access to medicines and road safety.  Equally, policies in areas such as rural roads, social protection, pensions and urban planning will influence peoples’ access to health care. These interactions lie at the heart of the new development agenda and vividly illustrate the importance of seeing health as part of the broader interdependent 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Challenges and Opportunities

WHO has a solid foundation on which to build. Enabling all people everywhere to attain the highest attainable standard of health is WHO’s constitutional mandate. The 2030 Agenda offers a unique framework to make this happen. The 2030 Agenda is universal, transformative, interconnected, indivisible, and inclusive. It recognizes that the drivers of poverty and poor health are multiple and complex and that our responses must be too.

While the focus will remain on strengthening front line services, an approach to national health development that focuses on individual programmes or specific targets in isolation will be counterproductive. To respond to the demands of the 2030 Agenda, individual programmes need to contribute to and work within the framework of each country’s overall plan.

 

WHO understands health’s economic, social, political and environmental determinants. The fundamental idea behind governance for health - is that deliberate action is needed to influence governance in other policy arenas in order to promote and protect health.  The integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda provides further incentive to pursue a more active agenda in this respect.  Areas of particular relevance, in which governance can have a positive impact on health, include AMR, the health of ageing populations, trade and intellectual property, sustainable energy, income inequality, migration, food security, and sustainable consumption and production. While much of the attention on governance for health has focused on global issues, the 2030 Agenda points to the importance of governance for health at national and regional levels.

 

The SDGs offer an opportunity to widen the scope of the discussion on “global health architecture”.  We now need to focus on the institutional arrangements that are required for financing and producing global public goods for health; for improving cross-border health security; for improving the relevance and coherence of the UN development agencies in the field of health; for addressing the causes of NCDs; and for enhancing standardized measurement and accountability.

 

WHO has a major role to play in monitoring progress against SDG 3 on health and its specific targets. Given the more political nature and breadth of the 2030 Agenda, civil society and others will use the SDGs to hold their governments to account. Social media will play an increasingly important role in this regard.  We can therefore look forward to a situation in which the SDGs, in addition to being the subject of country level monitoring of specific health targets, will also be used to provoke debate about a country’s position on inequality of income or in health, on migration, on access to medicines and many other factors that impact on health.

In my view, successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will make a massive contribution to people’s health everywhere.