Welcome to the third part of our Brave New World series, where we explore the impacts of Covid-19 on each of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. SDG3 looks at good health, well-being, and what we can do to improve the circumstances globally to improve those two things.
What do good health and well-being entail?
Within SDG3, the UN sought to address so many different aspects of health, with some of the main issues being:
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Road traffic accidents and safety
- Sexual health and family planning
- Chemical and pollution deaths (now 1 in 8 global deaths)
- Life expectancy and death rates
The UN aimed to work with all countries, but especially the most vulnerable nations, in strengthening their preventative and reformative measures for managing global health risks.
What nobody expected this year was that the main global health risk would be a coronavirus that locked down the majority of the world’s population and changed life as we know it. The knock-on effect is and will continue to be drastic.
How is SDG3 affected by COVID-19?
This question could be answered in a myriad of ways, and perhaps there’s enough material on this subject to compile a long and devastating work of non-fiction (perhaps this book is even being written somewhere in the world). One of the most complicated answers to this question, however, is to look back at those four bullet points from the previous section and see how COVID-19 has affected each of them because when we do that, we see that there are some unintended positive but most-likely temporary side effects.
- Substance abuse and addiction are reportedly down. With people staying at home away from pubs and clubs, and drug networks struggling to operate efficiently in the lockdowns, access to substances has been reduced
- Road traffic accidents dropped massively because people were not out driving, so the simple math states that fewer cars and emptier roads equate to fewer accidents
- Sexual health and family planning are hard to assess, but casual and unprotected sex is likely to be massively reduced as people stay indoors on lockdowns. Social distancing has also made it harder for people to build intimacy
- Chemical and pollution deaths are likely to be down this year as a percentage, due to the reduction in air pollution and the shutdown of many industries during the lockdown
Most countries are working at full power to handle the coronavirus and protect their people, but not all. Some countries, such as Belarus, Sweden, the US, and Brazil, have not taken the public health crisis as seriously as their counterparts, which is causing many issues in creating a unified global response to managing the crisis.
It could be conceived that SDG3 is likely to benefit the most from COVID-19 in the long run, as hygiene, public health awareness, and respect for diseases borne in the natural environment begin to improve. However, the honest reality is that in the short term, the coronavirus is to human suffering what a flame is to petrol.
What is the current status of SDG3 as a result of COVID-19?
Beyond the aspects of good health and wellbeing that we’ve mentioned so far, we must share the areas that have suffered the most, and provide a reminder that even before the pandemic, the world was far from being likely to achieve the goal of healthcare for the entire world by 2030.
Much of the good work made by global organisations, NGOs, and charities is slowly unravelling, for example:
- Progress made on declining infant and maternal mortality rates are at risk as access to healthcare and aid is increasingly limited
- HIV, AIDS, and Malaria deaths are likely to increase
- Breaks in vaccination campaigns to deal with the pandemic put hundreds of millions at immediate risk of other diseases
There’s another snowball effect happening here. A public health crisis that led to an economic crisis, which in turn has led to a humanitarian crisis, which piles the pressure on other public health crises, creating a disastrous loop effect.
The harsh reality for hospitals
COVID-19 has been a disaster for the hospital sector, with countless nurses and doctors catching the virus and dying whilst trying to protect others. Beds have been full, retired staff have come back to help, and throughout the lockdown, there was a sense that much of the world’s healthcare facilities were being overwhelmed. As lockdowns end and statistics come out about the true effect of the coronavirus on hospitals and care homes, we must pay our respects to those who died and those who fought bravely to protect others.
We must not also forget about those who forewent their own treatments and who suffered deaths or ailments at home as a result of crowded hospitals that were rife with a dangerous and communicable disease. Many people died not from coronavirus, but from not being able to seek help because of the risks that going to a hospital presented, or because professional help was simply not available.
What next for SDG 3?
2020 was dubbed the ‘decade of delivery’, as we entered the final 10 year stretch towards the ambitious 2030 goals set out by the UN. Immediately as 2020 started, those goals were thrown into doubt with Australian wildfires, the brink of a massive conflict between the US and Iran, and then worst of all, COVID-19.
Looking forward, SDG3 has a huge task on its hands, it primarily has to get back on track with all of the previous work in extending life spans and reducing infant mortality, improving access to vaccines in the 3rd world, substance abuse programmes, and road safety. Not only should we be focused on getting these aligned for a 2030 delivery, but managing it all within the parameters of a killer coronavirus, social distancing, and economic turmoil.
To look at public health and well-being with a microscope and say that certain aspects may benefit is ultimately a case of 1 step forward and 10 steps back, before any more steps can be made forward again. A wake-up call may have been necessary for other SDGs, but this one was making excellent progress despite an exploding global population.
In order to enter the Brave New World and get SDG3 back on track, international cooperation and partnerships (SDG17) are key to achieving that. Unison over what needs to be done, where funding will come from and how it can be delivered efficiently and how aid can be given safely, will all have to be organised as part of a cohesive strategy. All of this must be done in the face of second waves, obstructive anti-mask campaigns, are blatant ignorance of medical science. An element of luck and a good quality vaccine is also key.