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What do the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean for HealthBridge?

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The world has new development goals. On Sept. 25, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as the world’s blueprint for development until 2030.

The SDGs differ markedly from the MDGs. They are:

• Universal (not only for the Global South);
• Likely to be harder to meet (“leave no one behind”);
• Much broader (17 vs. 8 goals).

Will the SDGs make a difference for HealthBridge? In some ways, certainly. For example, fighting non-communicable diseases (which include cancers, cardiovascular and lung disease, and diabetes) is included in the health goal, SDG 3. NCDs were left out of the MDGs, as was the one risk factor common to the NCDs listed above – tobacco use. Recognition in the SDGs of the importance of tobacco and NCDs control could boost our partners’ efforts to convince national governments to make fighting these diseases a priority.

SDG 11 focuses on cities: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. With cities expected to house more than 2/3 of the world’s people by 2050, what happens in them will be a major factor in reaching other SDGs. For instance, Target 11.2 focuses on providing access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all. Achieving this goal would contribute to reaching the NCDs target, in Goal 3, by providing safe, comfortable, and attractive places to walk and cycle. (Lack of physical activity is an NCDs risk factor.) The focus on cities in the SDGs could highlight the important role played by initiatives in our Livable Cities program in contributing to sustainable development.

Reproductive, maternal and child health was at the centre of the MDGs and has continued to be a priority in the SDGs. SDG 3 includes targets for maternal, neonatal and under-5 mortality, as well as ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning. Unlike the MDGs, a specific target was set for neonatal mortality recognizing that nearly half of all under 5 child deaths occur during the first 28 days of life (the neonatal period) and hence, focusing on this period can substantially speed up progress in reducing child deaths.

The SDGs related to women and children’s health, however, go beyond SDG 3. For instance, maternal and child mortality cannot be reduced without access to healthy food and nutrition (SDG 2), freedom from gender-related violence and discrimination (SDG 5), and access to safe and affordable water, sanitation and hygiene (SDG 6). This highlights the critical importance of collaboration and coordinated action across multiple sectors to achieve improvements in women and children’s health.

Unfortunately, nutrition is scarcely mentioned in the SDGs. Only one of the targets and two of the indicators mention nutrition. This is despite the fact that 45% of deaths of children under age 3 are linked to malnutrition.

Only time will tell if the SDGs are more effective than the MDGs. Certainly their increased focus on some HealthBridge priority areas encourages us that we, and our partners, are working on important issues to improve global health and health equity.