So, what is your favourite Sustainable Development Goal?

UN SDGs 2018_

(United Nations, 2018)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms Kim van Daalen, a Dutch Public Health MPhil student at the University of Cambridge. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

The Sustainable Development Goals; 17 goals, 169 targets, an ambitious, hopeful and unifying agenda agreed on by 193 countries over the world to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for everyone worldwide. An agenda with so much to gain for a better world and nothing to lose.

Lately, I have been asked, remarkably often, the question ‘’ So, what is your favourite SDG? ‘’ – this might have something to do with the SDGs being the background of my phone, and up on my room wall, but never mind -. And as a student with a passion for Global Health people expect me to answer with something like ‘’ Goal 3: Good Health & Wellbeing, of course! ‘’. But does it make sense to stamp a goal as your favourite just because it is called ‘’ Good Health ‘’?

Global Health cannot be concerned in isolation as the determinants of health cross disciplinary and national boundaries. Hence, health involves social arrangements, justice, health economics, poverty, hunger, planetary health and so on. After one look at the sustainable development agenda one can only conclude that health is both an essential outcome as a key enabler of sustainable development, being a building block in a framework of interaction with other SDGs.

This can be illustrated by goal 2 ‘’Zero Hunger’’. Good health cannot be achieved without the access to sufficient nutrition while on the other hand not properly managed agriculture can damage health severely. Another example would be goal 13 ‘’ Climate Action’’ . The effects of extreme weather events (storms, heat, floods), the effects on our natural systems (availability fresh water, crop survival, pollen in the air, spread of disease vectors) and effects on our economic and social systems (scare resources, violent conflict) as a result of climate change make achieving goal 3 impossible with global action. As a last illustration; goal 11 ‘’ Sustainable cities and communities ‘’ plays a critical role for our mental and physical health providing affordable housing and health care services, while urbanisation also poses pressure on determinants of health as the water supplies, sewage etc.

Strong synergies with health can be described for almost all the 13 other SDGs, leading to the conclusion that the 17 SDGs are ‘’indivisible’’ in an integrated web of challenges.  Health is a crucial  human right and contributes to society through reduced expenditure, productive employment, gender equality and social cohesion. This leads to the conclusion that favouritism of goal 3, in the light of Global Health improvement,  would not do right to both Global Health or to the SDG agenda. We need to promote partnerships and synergies aligning actions across goals for better health.

Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.- Ban Ki-moon

About the author

Kim graduated her bachelor Cum Laude at Utrecht University and is now a MPhil Public Health student at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. She is the Regional Assistant for SCOPH Europe at the IFMSA, coordinating the Standing Committee on Public Health in Europe. Her main interests are in Global Health and Climate Change. Kim strongly believes that we can shape a new, healthier future for everyone regardless of country, socio-economic status etc. by interdisciplinary and international collaboration.

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