Davos Agenda

Healthy Futures: What are the challenges in making healthcare more sustainable?

A medical staff member wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) vaccinates a baby, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tangerang, near Jakarta, Indonesia May 13, 2020.  Antara Foto/Fauzan/ via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA. - RC2ONG9SDX7M

There has been progress on SDG 3, but more work must be done to meet health and well-being targets. Image: REUTERS

Samantha Sault
Writer, Washington DC and Geneva
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • There has been some progress on SDG 3, particularly on maternal and infant mortality and immunization rates.
  • However, the COVID-19 pandemic and response are throwing health-related targets, including eradicating other infectious diseases, "further off track".
  • Mental healthcare and universal health coverage are more important than ever.

Good health and well-being for all are essential to eliminating inequality and poverty and ensuring societies are resilient in the face of the steep economic and climate-related challenges ahead.

But there’s a lot of work to do in order to ensure healthy futures: getting a handle on infectious diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as well as non-communicable (but equally pervasive) diseases like diabetes and obesity, ending preventable maternal and infant deaths that persist even in some of the most developed economies, and ensuring access to quality healthcare (including mental healthcare) for everyone, to name a few.

Then factor in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which is not only causing widespread illness and death but also impairing our ability to deal with many other challenges, health-related and otherwise.

With resources diverted to the pandemic response, we’re seeing new outbreaks of measles – despite the fact there’s already a safe and effective vaccine for it – and we risk a rise in other deadly diseases including tuberculosis, cholera and malaria, as well.

And with a disproportionately devastating impact on communities of color, the elderly and society's most vulnerable, the virus is “unveiling the structural weaknesses of not only our economic systems, but also, more critically, our health systems,” as World Economic Forum experts put it.

Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

SDG 3 is ambitious, setting out to reduce or eliminate a number of health-related problems, including:

  • Maternal mortality and preventable deaths of newborns and young children.
  • Communicable diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as deaths from non-communicable diseases, substance abuse and mental illness.
  • Ensuring universal health coverage, and especially access to reproductive health services.
  • The health impacts of the environment, including hazardous chemicals, pollution and climate change.

How much progress has been made?

The world is understandably consumed by COVID-19, but it’s not the only challenge – or even the only infectious disease – we need to worry about in order to achieve the SDG 3 targets by 2030.

According to the UN’s SDG Progress Report 2020, there has been noteworthy progress, but not nearly enough to meet most of the targets.

Significant progress has been made in areas like reducing preventable maternal and infant deaths, increasing childhood immunization rates and increasing access to reproductive healthcare.

For example, the maternal mortality ratio fell by 38% between 2000-2017, a 2.9% decline each year – but it needs to fall 6.4% each year “to achieve the global target of 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births by 2030.”

Similarly, childhood immunization rates have been steadily rising, with coverage of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine increasing from 72% in 2000 to 86% in 2018, and the measles vaccine from 19% to 69% in the same time frame. Still, in 2018, as many as 19.4 million children worldwide did not receive these vaccines.

Immunization coverage worldwide, by type of vaccine, 2010-2018 (percentage)
According to the UN SDG Progress Report 2020, immunization rates have been increasing worldwide. Image: UN

Now, what progress has been made has been thrown “further off track” by COVID-19, explains the progress report. With health systems strained, resources diverted to the pandemic response and lockdowns disrupting access to healthcare facilities, we’re seeing disappointing setbacks – such as the resurgence in measles.

Have you read?

Above all, it underlines the need to make more progress on achieving universal health coverage (UHC) – which is essential to beat COVID-19, and to achieve the other targets. “If current trends continue, only 39% to 64% of the global population will be covered" by essential health services, says the progress report. Meanwhile, the number of people spending more than 10% of their household budgets on healthcare continues to rise – which in this time of economic turmoil, means more people could delay routine medical appointments, putting adults and children of all ages at risk of preventable infectious diseases, as well as unnecessary suffering from cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or mental illness.

Sustainable Development Goal SDG 3 before and during COVID-19 pandemic
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SDG 3 targets Image: UN

What are the World Economic Forum and its partners doing to create healthy futures?

  • In March 2020, the Forum launched the COVID Action Platform – the first platform of its kind – to galvanize the global business community to take collective action, protect livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize cooperation and business support for the COVID-19 response.
  • The Forum is strengthening public-private partnerships to fight infectious disease. As two examples, the Forum’s Epidemics Readiness Accelerator is driving public-private collaboration to prepare for and reduce the risk of future epidemics, while the Accelerator for Impact (a4i) is a public-sector VC fund to digitalize care and implement emerging healthcare technologies in countries with high rates of TB.
  • Hosted by the World Bank Group and the World Health Organization, UHC2030 is the only global health partnership to engage the private sector, governments, civil society and international organization stakeholders. The Forum hosts the UHC2030 Private-Sector Constituency, a platform for the private sector to exchange ideas and collaborate on UHC.
  • The Forum’s Leapfrogging with Precision Medicine project is developing a set of tools and case studies demonstrating how precision medicine can transform healthcare delivery and outcomes – advancing more targeted and personalised ways of screening, diagnosing and treating disease.

What can I do to create healthy futures?

  • Wear a face mask, practice social distancing and wash my hands regularly to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
  • Ensure vaccinations for myself and my children are up to date. Make a plan to get the flu vaccine this year to help ensure hospitals aren’t overrun with influenza during the pandemic.
  • Thank medical professionals and essential workers who put their health and the health of their loved ones at risk every day to ensure we all continue to have access to services during the pandemic.
  • Encourage my company to prioritize health investments and partnerships, as well as the mental health of employees and stakeholders.
  • Speak out against economic and social disparities that lead to inequitable access to healthcare.
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Davos AgendaGlobal HealthHealth and Healthcare
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