23 March 2020 — The coronavirus pandemic presents an opportunity for the human family to act in solidarity and turn this crisis into an impetus to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The United Nations – and our global network of country offices -- will support all Governments to ensure that the global economy and the people we serve emerge stronger from this crisis,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in his recent statement, expressing his firm determination to prevent the crisis from derailing sustainable development efforts while laying out a vision for the affected to build back better.

Here are some examples of how the United Nations is fighting back against the threat of the COVID-19:

SDGs Decade of Action

Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading the global fight against COVID-19.  While WHO medical experts supporting Government responses, the health agency today announced the launch of the “Pass the message to kick out coronavirus” campaign by teaming up with FIFA, the international governing body of football. At today’s press briefing, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that more than 300,000 cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO from almost every country in the world. It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just 4 days for the third 100,000 cases. “You can't win a football game only by defending,” he said. “To win, we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics –  testing every suspected case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case, and tracing and quarantining every close contact.”

Goal 4: Quality Education

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), roughly 1.25 billion learners, or 72.9 per cent of total enrolled learners, worldwide have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak as of 20 March. “In this crisis, which is first and foremost a public health crisis, our thoughts are of course with the sick and all those who are suffering today and struggling against the coronavirus,” says UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, adding that “We must, however, remain mobilized, because this crisis also tells us several things that are very dear to UNESCO’s mission.” UNESCO is supporting Governments for distance learning, scientific cooperation, and information support.

Goal 5: Gender Equality

The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) has issued a checklist for COVID-19 response that includes 10 asks for Governments. Deputy Executive Director Åsa Regnér says that women carry countries' well-being on their shoulders and that right now, they are working day and night holding societies together, through health care, maternal care, elderly care, online teaching, child care, in pharmacies, in grocery stores and as social workers. It is UN Women’s job to support Governments in upholding the rights of women and girls. “This is no less, and perhaps even more true, in times of crisis,” she said.

“The United Nations – and our global network of country offices -- will support all Governments to ensure that the global economy and the people we serve emerge stronger from this crisis”

girls cheering

Goal 6: Water and Sanitation

One of the most effective ways to slow down transmission is to wash or sanitize hands. However, globally three billion people do not have access to even basic hand washing facilities at home.  Lack of access to clean water affects vulnerability to disease and ill health. It is for this reason that UN-Water members and partners are committing to the SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework, which will unify the international community and deliver fast results in countries at an increased scale as part of the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Almost 25 million people could lose their jobs due to a coronavirus-induced economic and labour crisis, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has projected. In her blog, ILO Senior Economist Janine Berg warned that people in informal employment would not have social protection they need in times of crisis.  She noted that the ILO Social Protection Floors Recommendation, 2012 (No. 202) said that countries should guarantee at least a basic level of social security to all, and progressively ensure adequate levels of protection to as many people as possible, as soon as possible. “In light of the COVID-19 crisis, now is a good time to heed this advice and restructure and rebuild the systems we have in place,” she emphasized.

Goal 10: Reduce Inequalities

In crises, the most vulnerable, including women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced, pay the highest price. At a press briefing today, the Secretary-General said that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration have been working hard to have a plan, working with the host countries to prevent the arrival of the virus in refugee camps or in settlements. He appealed for the international community to fully support those measures, which will be included in a $2 billion humanitarian appeal that the United Nations will launch on Wednesday.  Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, In his latest statement on COVID-19, expressed a concern that measures adopted by some countries that could block altogether the right to seek asylum. All states must manage their borders in the context of this unique crisis as they see fit. But these measures should not result in closure of avenues to asylum, or of forcing people to return to situations of danger. If health risks are identified, screening arrangements can be put in place, together with testing, quarantine and other measures. These will enable authorities to manage the arrival of asylum seekers and refugees in a safe manner, while respecting international refugee protection standards designed to save lives, he said.

man unloading boxes

Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions       

This goal is about finding ways to make sure everyone lives in a peaceful society.  The Secretary-General today made an urgent appeal for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world and for a united international effort to combat the pandemic ravaging the world. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said at a virtual press conference. “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”

Goal 17: Partnerships

To make all the goals a reality will require the participation of everyone, including Governments, the private sector, civil society organizations and people around the world.  The fight against COVID-19 is no exception.