Health & Sustainable Development Goals: it’s about doing what we can

UN SDGs 2018

(UN Sustainable Development Goals, 2016)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Fiona Mansfield, a medical student at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Ms Mansfield is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA). The opinion expressed in this piece belongs to the writer and does not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Ban Ki Moon (former UN Secretary General) described the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as “a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success”; two years since the creation of these goals, we should continue to question our role as individuals in their realisation.

17 goals, 169 targets, and a 15-year timeline; it appears ambitious, but with so much to gain, ambition is exactly what we need. In the fight for equality, sustainability, education and healthcare, where everyone has a stake and everyone has a contribution to make, we must do everything within our power to achieve them.

The privilege of education, the desire to create change, and the opportunity to do so: This is a hugely powerful triad, and one that (as medical students and future doctors) we are lucky enough to have access to. Surveys and studies have repeatedly reported the massive amount of trust the general public put in the medical profession. We’re living through an age of fake news, where faith in politicians and journalists is wavering, yet we remain trusted. This propels us into a position of responsibility and opportunity; as trusted citizens, as individuals who care and as educated people we cannot afford to be passive subjects – we must collaborate, communicate, advocate and educate to achieve the goals.

First and foremost, we must accept the reality that it is our responsibility to create change in our own lives and in the world around us; leaving it to “someone else” simply won’t do. The UN recently published “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World”, outlining small steps that everyone can take, contributing to the SDGs in one way or another. The article includes eating less meat to lower your carbon footprint, taking shorter showers and sharing social media posts to engage others in important topics – it’s a useful place to start.

Additionally, we cannot ignore that human health and health of the planet are intrinsically linked. The World Health Organisation estimates climate change will be responsible for an additional 250 000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050; our role as medical students extends well beyond the immediate issues we see around us. We must adopt a broader perspective, look ahead and acknowledge our role in looking after the planet too, again, leading by example and doing what we can.

As an individual with the busy schedule of a medical student, sometimes it feels impossible that I could be the instigator of any tangible positive change. The world feels big and I feel small. People in power seem to run by agendas that lack compassion, with no interest in equality or sustainability. But we must remember that triad; we have education and opportunity, the most powerful tools, which when matched with a desire to create change, become invaluable.

The sustainable development goals are a global challenge, but we are global citizens and there is much we can do locally. Create networks with likeminded citizens and aim high together. Let the SDGs become your to-do list and remember that no matter how small your actions appear, and regardless of how slow progress seems, doing something is always better than doing nothing when it comes to creating change.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” ~Edward Everett Hale

About the author

Fiona Mansfield is a medical student at the University of Dundee, Scotland. Her interest in sustainable development and humanitarian aid stems from a three-month water and sanitation project she worked on in Nicaragua in 2016 as part of International Citizen Service (ICS); there, she saw first hand the impact of climate change and inequality on rural communities in Central America and vowed to do all she could to create positive change back at home as a global citizen.

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  1. Indeed! as this will have a good impact to us as well!

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