More from UNDESA Vol 24, No. 04 - April 2020

SDG 3 in numbers

Major progress has been made in improving the health of millions of people. Maternal and child mortality rates have been reduced, life expectancy continues to increase globally, and the fight against some infectious diseases has made steady progress.

In the case of other diseases, however, progress has slowed or stalled, including global efforts to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. Far too many deaths occurred because trained health workers or routine interventions, such as immunizations, were not available. In fact, at least half the world’s population, many of whom suffer financial hardship, are still without access to essential health services. In rich and poor countries alike, a health emergency can push people into bankruptcy or poverty.

Concerted efforts are required on these and other fronts to achieve universal health coverage and sustainable financing for health; address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, including mental health; and tackle antimicrobial resistance and environmental factors contributing to ill health, such as air pollution and the lack of safely managed water and sanitation.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 3 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.

COVID-19: We won’t improve global health one disease at a time

By Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, World Health Organization

We are now confronting the defining health crisis of our time. We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear the world apart—if we let it.

Nearly half a million people have already been infected with coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and more than 20,000 have lost their lives. The first 100,000 cases took 67 days. The second 100,000 took 11 days, the third 100,000 took just 4 days and the fourth 100,000 just 2 days. Clearly, the pandemic is accelerating at an exponential rate.

Without aggressive action in all countries, millions could die. As to the full social, economic and political fallout, only time will tell. But we know that the price we end up paying depends on the choices we make now. This global crisis can be addressed only through a global response.

We affirm, in outbreaks as in “peacetime”, that health is a fundamental human right. And the best way to guarantee people’s right to health and well-being is to ensure universal health coverage. UHC is also the best line of defense in outbreaks and emergencies.

Every country has its own path towards universal health coverage, and each is at a unique point on that journey. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. But they all have the same destination, and they all have the same starting point—political will.

At the last United Nations General Assembly, all 193 UN Member States approved a political declaration on universal health coverage, the most comprehensive international health agreement in history.

The General Assembly also saw the launch of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-Being for All. This is a unique commitment by 12 multilateral agencies to work together in new ways to support countries to accelerate progress towards the SDG health targets.

Together, we will engage with countries to identify their priorities, to accelerate progress through joint action, to align our operational and financial strategies, and most importantly, to be accountable. Different organizations and agencies have already initiated joint projects for COVID-19. We need to replicate these new ways of working in many different situations.

There has never been a better opportunity to work together to transform the health of billions of people. But we still have a long way to go on the road to UHC.

On current trends, up to 5 billion people will lack access to essential health services by 2030. That means children not getting vaccinated, expectant mothers and people with chronic illness unable to see a health worker, or people without life-saving treatment for HIV.

Although we have made enormous progress, we have also learned valuable lessons.

We cannot improve global health one disease at a time.

Changing patterns in demographics, economics and politics put new stresses on already overstretched health systems.

Our failure to invest in health systems doesn’t only leave individuals, families and communities at risk, it also leaves the world vulnerable to outbreaks and other health emergencies.

The recent report of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board was eerily prescient, as it showed that the world remains dangerously unprepared for the next global pandemic. I am sorry to say, we are now witnessing in real time the consequences of that lack of preparation.

It is frankly difficult to understand why countries would invest so heavily in protecting their people from terrorist attacks, but not against the attack of a virus, which could be far more deadly, and far more damaging economically and socially.

There are always people at risk of being left behind. There are always new challenges to confront, like COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance and the health effects of air pollution and climate change. New treatments offer many benefits, but also pose new challenges for the financial sustainability of health systems.

That’s why WHO is calling on all countries to increase spending on primary health care by 1% of GDP by 2030, either through new investments, reallocation or both. Globally, we need a radical reorientation of our health systems towards promoting health and preventing diseases, not simply managing them in hospitals.

In our divided world, health is one of the few areas in which international cooperation offers the opportunity for countries to work together for a common cause. Working together for a healthier world not only improves the lives of billions of people, it also builds a platform for sustainable development, and can become a bridge to peace.

COVID-19 is severely testing health systems and political and scientific leadership around the world. But we will confront more and more such crises and we must be ready to do so. Universal health coverage provides us the best opportunity to prevent and manage outbreaks, to provide primary health care, and to demonstrate our solidarity with all people everywhere.

*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

Follow Us