Countdown day 15 – SDG 3: Good health and well-being


“Health doesn’t just make us happier. It helps economic growth,” said Mauricio Cárdenas, Minister of Finance and Public Credit of Colombia. “We have to think of health as an investment decision.”[1]

Health is Wealth! It is no accident that the health SDG, Goal No. 3 (“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”), focuses not just on health but also on well-being,  building on the three separate health-related goals in the MDGs (4, 5 and 6). This is one of the clearest examples of how the ambitious Post-2015 development agenda focuses not just on quantity but quality. In doing so, it advances beyond the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda and reinforces the linkages between maternal mortality, child mortality, sanitation, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (TB) as well as hunger.

Negotiators were bold in addressing this goal. They brought back to the debate neglected topical diseases (target 3.3) and they also included new topics, such as (i) road traffic accidents (target 3.6); (ii) substance abuse (including narcotics and alcohol) (target 3.5); (iii) deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination (target 3.9); and (iv) tobacco (target 3.a). In some cases, air pollution’s effects on human health have had a greater impact on people’s life cycle than HIV and TB.  More critically, sexual and reproductive issues were also included and agreed upon, despite being a thorny issue. The pro-gender movements did a lot of successful advocacy work to maintain these parts on the SDG text. Therefore, in emphasizing these issues, along with health-care services and universal health coverage, SDG 3 takes a bold step forward in looking at both individual and state responsibilities as well as the role of industry and the private sector. As with all other Goals, sharp attention must be given to the deep disparities that exist in terms of achieving health goals and targets.  Attention not only to quick fixes that can be achieved with top –down solutions as necessary as these are – but also to systemic issues that require institutional and cultural adjustments to ensure that everyone, regardless of race, caste, religion, location, gender has access to quality health.

Facts and challenges – 2015 is the time to address the following issues:

  • Despite tremendous progress, malaria remains an acute public health problem in many regions. In 2015 alone, there were an estimated 214 million new cases of malaria, and approximately 438 000 people died of this preventable and treatable disease. About 3.2 billion people – almost half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria[2].
  • Too many children still die needlessly, most of them from causes that are both treatable and preventable. In 2012, 6.6 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday, and the interventions needed to save these children are mostly known. Many of the solutions, such as vaccines, antibiotics or micronutrient supplementation, are high-impact and low-cost[3].
  • Alcohol impacts people and societies. In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 % of all global deaths, were attributable to alcohol consumption and harmful use of alcohol resulting in a significant health, social and economic burden on society at large[4].
  • In 2012, 125 million people are at risk from toxic pollution in 49 low- and middle-income countries and revised upwards to 200 million in 2013. There are more than 3000 toxic sites[5]. Environmental pollution is also a significant factor for child mortality.

The Health MDGs managed to gain a lot of support from several groups and government, and created a coalition that contributed significantly to this bold SDG Agenda. But we still need to move forward: The interlinked agenda of the SDGs will be able to deliver more by allowing health benefit from several of the other goals. Those are food security and improved nutrition (SDG 2); education (SDG 4); water and sanitation for all (SDG 6); economic growth and decent work (SDG 8); resilient infrastructure and innovation (SDG 9) and safe and sustainable cities (SDG 11). Of course, other correlations are possible. This list is merely to inspire readers to get to know the other SDGs at

A last example: If our children are unhealthy, educational results will falter and in turn affect the labour market, entrepreneurship and innovation. Education, health and opportunity go hand in hand. This is why health is the basis for all other development efforts!








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