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Spotlight on Goal 3…Good Health and Well-Being

The old saying goes, “health is wealth” and that’s exactly what Goal 3 endorses. It recognises that individuals around the world cannot reach their full potential unless they are in good health, not just physically but also mentally and socially. Poor health keeps people trapped in a cycle of poverty as they are unable to get the education or economic opportunities they need. In many ways, this Goal is therefore an important precursor to the other SDGs and strongly tied in with many of them, particularly those which focus on zero hunger (Goal 2), gender equality (Goal 5) and water and sanitation (Goal 6).

Improvements in recent years

No doubt, massive strides have been made in healthcare systems around the world in the last couple of decades. Since 1990, there has been a 50% reduction in unnecessary child deaths and a 45% drop in maternal mortality rates. New incidents of HIV/AIDS also fell by 30% between 2005 and 2013. Yet despite this, hundreds of people still die from easily treatable illnesses every day. We see this on our health programmes, where adolescent mothers die because of complications during childbirth, which would be easily treatable in Ireland, and children suffer from diseases caused by lack of access to routine vaccinations and malnutrition. Even in more developed countries, there are massive health service issues. We are all well used to hearing news stories about excessive waiting times for vital procedures, lack of hospital beds for elderly patients and inadequate mental health services here in Ireland.

Goal 3 targets

Volunteers like Dr Peter O'Reilly from Co. Kerry have shared skills on our health programmes and helped to save lives.

To promote health and well-being for all, Goal 3 has 13 targets to reach by 2030. These include:

  • Reduce the global maternal mortality rate to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.
  • Stop babies and children dying needlessly from preventable diseases by reducing the rate of neonatal deaths to 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 deaths to as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.
  • End the epidemics of AIDs, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.
  • Reduce by one-third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment, and promote mental health and well-being.
  • Prevent and treat substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and the harmful use of alcohol.
  • By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents.
  • Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including those for family planning, information and education.

Prevention is better than cure

One of the main ways to reach Goal 3’s targets is to prevent disease from happening in the first place and control its spread. Save the Children estimate that closing the immunisation gap could save 800,000 more lives between now and 2020. This would allow more children to live a healthier life, stay in school and develop the skills they need to escape poverty. Immunisation is also cost-effective and would lead to estimated savings of $6.2 billion in treatment costs in low- and middle-income countries.

It’s also important to control the spread of life-threatening diseases when they do occur to ensure as few lives are claimed as possible. To do this, we need to strengthen the capacity of health facilities, particularly those in low-income countries, to detect disease outbreaks early and manage crisis health situations quickly. Just recently, we witnessed the devastation of the Ebola pandemic in Sierra Leone which resulted in almost 4,000 fatalities. No doubt, if this epidemic had occurred in a more developed country with specially designed health facilities, clean running water, proper sanitation and highly trained staff, we would not have had the same outcome.

Links with Goal 2: No Hunger

Promoting access to a nutritional diet is one of the best ways to prevent illness and disease in marginalised communities.

Hunger and malnutrition are linked with a huge number of illnesses, particularly in low-income countries where food might be scarce. This was evident in Ireland when the famine claimed around one million deaths in the mid-1800s. People died from hunger but also related diseases, such as typhus, dysentery and smallpox. Enabling marginalised people to access a nutritional diet is therefore so important in warding off diseases and enabling people to lead productive lives. It is also vital to spread knowledge of the benefits of a nutritional diet, which is a key component of VSO’s maternal and neonatal health programmes.

Even in wealthier countries we are seeing a massive increase in obesity, diabetes and other diet-related conditions. In 1975, one in every 100 Irish children was obese, whereas now it’s one in every 10. Surprisingly these types of conditions are not mentioned under the targets for Goal 3, a reason for criticism by some. Tackling overconsumption and food waste is essential if we are to ensure healthy lives for all by 2030.

Mental health issues

When the SDGs were unveiled in 2015, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, said, “The inclusion of noncommunicable diseases under the health goal is a historical turning point. Finally these diseases are getting the attention they deserve.” Mental disorders and illness were almost entirely ignored in the previous set of Millennium Development Goals, which were primarily focused on addressing the gap in health status between rich and poor countries. These kinds of noncommunicable diseases, including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia, cause suffering the world over, with an estimated one million people dying by suicide each year. In low-income countries, people with a mental disorder often receive no treatment at all and face isolation and discrimination, so this isn’t just an issue that needs to be addressed in the Global North. A state of mental wellbeing is so important in allowing people to reach their full potential and escape inequality, which makes it a cross-cutting issue in international development.

VSO volunteer Catherine Bedford is a Family and Sexual Violence Mental Health Nurse who has helped victims and survivors of gender violence and child abuse in Papua New Guinea.

What is VSO doing to help?

VSO’s programmes help health workers, communities and governments improve access to quality health services and prevent the spread of life-threatening illnesses. With over 2.6 million babies dying within the first 28 days of life each year, one of our main focus areas is maternal and neonatal health. Our volunteers train local health workers in life-saving techniques, like resuscitation, and carry out community outreach to remove stigma around accessing services. Our Irish Aid funded programme in Ethiopia saw a massive 40% reduction in neonatal mortality deaths in some hospitals thanks to the introduction of specialist Neonatal Intensive Care Units. Our other focus area is adolescent, sexual and reproductive health. We work with growing youth populations in low-income countries to create spaces for communities to engage with issues of sexual health and rights, and advocate for young people to make decision about their own bodies. The VSO Ireland team is particularly focused on our new Irish Aid funded programme in Karamoja, Uganda, which is helping pregnant teenage girls get access to the services they need and reduce the risk of death during labour.

How you can help

Advocating for Goal 3 should start with you. Being a little healthier doesn’t have to mean a complete lifestyle overall – it’s more about looking out for yourself and giving your immune system the best chance to fight off infection and illness. Try to have a balanced diet to ensure you’re getting your recommended daily intake of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. This should be combined with regular exercise – 30 minutes most days is generally advised – and enough sleep.

It’s also important to look after your mental health and wellbeing. A lot of people find meditation apps like Headspace are a fantastic way to destress and gain more focus in life. We also all need to start talking more about mental health issues so the stigma around these is removed and better services are put in place. Look out for friends and family when they seem down, and seek help if you do too.

At VSO Ireland, we see how small changes and actions lead to create positive impact every day. While the SDGs are aimed at countries, we can all take guidance from them to make small changes in our own lives that will better the communities, country and world we live in. Find out more about the SDGs here.

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