The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are ambitious global targets created by the United Nations to promote a positive global future. They were created based off the previous Millennium Development Goals created in 2010. It has been five years since the creation of the SDGs, and 2030 is fast approaching. Therefore, we must promote these goals and implement them into our daily lives, on all scales: individual, institutional, and global.
COVID-19 has impacted our lives on a global scale, and we can see the consequences of neglecting our planet come to the surface. A healthy planet creates healthy people, therefore, because our planet is sick, we are too. Public health is a crucial aspect of the SDGs; however, most people associate health exclusively with SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being. The SDGs are very interrelated, thus, there are multiple SDGs that can promote public health on a global scale, each additionally impacted by COVID-19. These goals are:
- 2: Zero Hunger
- 3: Good Health and Well-Being
- 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- 10: Reduced Inequalities
- 13: Climate Action
- 15: Life on Land
SDG 2: Zero Hunger relates to public health because food and nutrition are directly related to health. Improving nutrition goes beyond SDG 2 alone and can play a transformational role in driving sustainable development. Combating global malnutrition will significantly improve health and assist in ending poverty. To make progress on sustainable development it is essential to make progress on nutrition to increase health and well-being overall. Before COVID-19, food insecurity was already on the rise. The pandemic is an additional threat to food systems as countries are reducing global shipments of goods which impacts the financial security of small farming communities.
SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being is the main SDG associated with Public Health as it aims to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other communicable diseases, and in general reduce illness and mortality globally. The global health sectors are significantly impacted by the mass amounts of hospitalizations due to COVID-19. As the cases increase, health care workers are unable to keep up with the demand for care which causes the neglect of other health conditions to prioritize COVID. This is why we must stand together and stay home to reduce the spread of infection. Protecting the vulnerable protects us all.
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation is directly related to public health because often times various diseases can spread through unsanitary water. Additionally, one of the main actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is handwashing. However, without access to water, communities are left with increased risk to COVID-19 and other illnesses, making them increasingly vulnerable. In Canada specifically, there are many indigenous communities without access to water. This is worsened in the global south where some communities have to walk for miles to obtain water that is often unsanitary. For reference, 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water and 4.2 billion people (more than half of the of the global population) lack safely managed sanitation
SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities is related to public health because those most vulnerable are the most affected by COVID-19. According to the UN statistics, illnesses and deaths from communicable disease will spike because of service cancellations (due to the global pandemic) will lead to a 100% increase in malaria deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, the global recession could decrease development aid to developing countries. From 2017 to 2018, development aid decreased by 64%, meaning it could decrease even more, and because two in five health-care facilities world-wide have no soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub, these communities will be hit the hardest by the pandemic.
SDG 13: Climate Action is directly related to public health. As temperatures increase, there will be more “natural” disasters globally, which will impact more communities, thus, impacting their access to health care. For example, the increasing temperature will cause drought along the equator, eventually forcing whole communities to migrate because of the lack of food and water. Additionally, only 85 countries have national disaster risk reduction strategies, meaning these disasters will increase inequalities globally, thus impacting health care. Vector-borne diseases such as malaria & zika virus, will travel at a broader range once global temperatures increase.
SDG 15: Life on Land is impacted by COVID-19 because as the world’s attention shifted towards the pandemic, there is now less attention being paid to the increasing loss of biodiversity. Additionally, wildlife trafficking contributes to the spread of infectious diseases and pangolins are specifically suspected to be the intermediary animal that transferred the coronavirus. This can be seen with other diseases such as the Ebola Virus being contracted from bats. Additionally, as forest areas continue to decline for agricultural expansion, it increases the rate of warming globally.
The lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact us as we move forward in time. We should incorporate all SDG’s into our lives to fight for a brighter future for everyone. The main lesson from this pandemic is that we are a collective, and we must therefore fight for our planet – all of it.