The United Nations General Assembly recently adopted its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: 17 goals and 169 targets to eradicate poverty, eliminate inequality, and fight climate change over the next 15 years. It's an extraordinarily ambitious agenda for the world community, which closely aligns with the mission and responsibilities of public health.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) build on the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ratified by the United Nations in 2000; the world's work to accomplish the MDGs has helped the global community make significant progress toward reducing poverty, childhood mortality, and deaths from AIDS and malaria over the past 15 years. Despite this success, the Millennium Development Goals were seen by many as too narrow and not representative of a true world view. As Liz Ford wrote in The Guardian, "Unlike the MDGs...the UN has conducted the largest consultation programme in its history to gauge opinion on what the SDGs should include."
While the MDGs focused more specifically on health issues, the SDGs, which address underlying structural problems, confront the drivers of the public's health more expansively. Half of the eight MDGs focused directly on health concerns: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty; Reduce Child Mortality; Improve Maternal Health; Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases. The other four were less direct: Achieve Universal Primary Education; Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women; Ensure Environmental Sustainability; Develop a Global Partnership for Development.
In contrast, none of the SDGs mention a specific disease or medical condition, and only one is focused on health. But together they offer a broader framework to address public health concerns in a more holistic way — recognizing the evidence that we can no longer separate poor health from climate change, inadequate housing, gender disparities, and economic privation. Even peace, whose absence has forced millions to become refugees in recent months, finds its way to the SDGs as one avenue towards improved population health.