As outlined in our primer on Global Goals Week 2018, a number of SDG-focused conferences, summits and report launches took place in the margins of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly. Reviewing a subset of these, this week’s brief looks at where the world stands three years into the SDGs. And with much of the week’s attention on aspects of SDG 3 on health, we also consolidate recent reporting on these issues.

Where We Stand on the SDGs

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released their 2018 Goalkeepers Data Report, which tracks progress towards the SDGs. The second edition of its kind following the Goalkeepers’ launch in 2017, the report expresses optimism by highlighting recent achievements, but underscores that “decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling.” A more detailed SDG Knowledge Hub write-up is available.

Soumya Chattopadhyay, Overseas Development Institute (ODI), compiles and compares the latest poverty estimates from the World Bank, UNDP, ODI, Gates Foundation and Brookings. Chattopadhyay notes that while all institutions find continuing decline extreme poverty, the rate of decline is slowing, and vulnerable populations risk being left further behind. He flags that on society’s current path, “we will not eradicate extreme poverty by 2030; we will not even reduce it to the revised target of 3%.”

Fahmida Khatun, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), discusses where society stands three years into the SDG era, in a post on The Daily Star. Khatun notes, similarly to Chattopadhyay, that the current rate of progress is insufficient to meet the Goals. Protectionist policies and “mounting geopolitical tensions” threaten progress, she writes, pointing to the low number of countries that have met their commitment to provide 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) as official development assistance (ODA), as well as dim prospects for global trade agreements. However, Khatun argues that the pace of progress can be accelerated through strengthened partnerships at national and global levels. The fate of the SDGs, she concludes, is “in the hands of the goodwill of countries.”

The SDGs have proven a difficult framework for business to grapple with, and only two companies have adopted new 2030 targets.

Companies also can influence progress, as explored in an Oxfam publication titled, ‘Walking the Talk: Assessing companies’ progress from SDG rhetoric to action.’ The paper assesses the aggregate SDG engagement of 76 of the world’s largest companies across five themes: prioritization; integration; ambition; human rights and gender equality; and reporting. It finds that although companies are making public commitments to the SDGs, their sustainability priorities appear to remain largely the same. Only two companies in the sample have adopted new targets in line with the SDGs’ 2030 timeline. The paper concludes that the SDGs “have proved a difficult framework for business to grapple with,” but identifies initiatives such as the World Benchmarking Alliance that are expected to stimulate progress via company comparisons. An Oxfam summary blog and methodology note is also available.

Working towards Good Health and Well-being

The UNGA high-level week included two key meetings on health: a high-level meeting on tuberculosis (TB) on 26 September, followed by the UN’s third comprehensive review of progress against non-communicable diseases (NCDs), on 27 September. On SDG target 3.3, an op-ed on Foreign Policy by Laurie Garrett discusses the political and scientific challenges of eradicating TB, but points to multilaterals such as the Global Fund fighting alongside “thousands of dedicated NGOs” as a cause for hope. Garrett notes that efforts to fight HIV/AIDS have had positive spillover effects on rates of TB, though cautions that the current US presidential administration and pharmaceutical industry are delivering neither the political commitment nor investment needed to combat the disease.

On SDG target 3.4, in alignment with the comprehensive review meeting on NCDs, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified 16 “best buys” for governments in addressing the issue. Its report titled, ‘Noncommunicable Diseases Country Profiles 2018,’ is the third of its kind, following the First and Second UN High-level Meetings on NCDs held in 2011 and 2014, respectively. The report presents country data on “NCD mortality, risk factor prevalence, national systems capacity to prevent and control NCDs,” noting that the global NCD burden is “unacceptably high.” The “best buys” to address NCDs include reduced tobacco and alcohol consumption, healthier diets and physical activity.

A joint report by Devex and Philips titled, ‘Early Detection & Diagnosis: A critical link for effective NCD management,’ surveys over 1,200 health professionals to understand the role for early detection. The publication flags that despite being a major cause of death in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), “NCDs receive less than 1.3% of development assistance in global health budgets.” Respondents indicate that NCDs are superseded by infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, and that the current approach to NCD management focuses on treatment rather than diagnosis or prevention. Key means of fighting NCDs, the report notes, include: prevention and behavior change communication; early detection and diagnosis; early intervention and treatment; awareness creation; a holistic and multisectoral approach to health systems; and increased access to drugs, facilities, technologies and trained personnel. A summary post by two of report’s authors is available on the World Economic Forum (WEF) website.

WHO launched its ‘Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2018.’ The report reviews alcohol consumption vis-à-vis the SDGs, presents a set of strategies and monitoring frameworks and notes national-level policy interventions, in addition to providing a set of country profiles for WHO Member States. While alcohol consumption is directly referenced in SDG target 3.5, the report also notes its linkages to infectious diseases, NCDs, mental health, violence and inequalities.

Devex also tackled multiple health issues through a number of articles and guest op-eds, including their Taking the Pulse series. A selection of posts is below.

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo reports on a study published in The Lancet that finds more than two thirds of deaths each year can be traced to NCDs. It also finds that overall rates of NCDs in the US are increasing, that people are most likely to die of NCDs in LMICs, and that men are more likely than women to die from NCDs.
  • A Q&A with Kelly Henning, Bloomberg Philanthropies, discusses expectations from the meeting on NCDs and Bloomberg’s strategy for addressing the topic.
  • An excerpt of remarks by Zoleka Mandela, global ambassador for Child Health Initiative and founder of Zoleka Mandela Foundation, calling for action on NCDs.
  • Amy Lieberman reports that the meeting on NCDs fell short of hard commitments in the eyes of civil society, and TB has gotten a “rare moment of attention.”
  • Daniela Terminel, Global Health Corps, calls for commitments to youth leadership and mentorship as a means of combatting global health challenges.
  • Eduardo P. Banzon, Asian Development Bank, offers his take on how investing in NCD prevention can help finance sustainable development.

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.