SDG 3: Promoting healthy lives for all

Virginia Muwanigwa Correspondent
This is one of a series of articles analysing progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the year of review of the SADC Gender Protocol, 15 years post the adoption of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and ahead of the adoption of their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While

SDG 5 seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls specifically by 2030, proposals from the Commission on Status of Women (CSW58) in 2014 called for not only a stand alone goal on gender, and that gender be one of the targets in other goals; and that resources be allocated to ensure implementation.

This indirectly speaks to SDG 3 which seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being of all at all ages. The SADC Gender Protocol defines health as ‘a complete state of physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being of an individual and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.

As such, it is important to ensure that all the other 16 goals contribute to addressing those issues that are specific to women and girls and among them, those living with disability among other demographic differences.

One’s well being is defined by absence of poverty, hunger, conflict and sustainable presence of nurturing cities, access to water and sanitation, energy, housing and productive resources. Also important is the need for bodily integrity and personal security in addition to environments that challenge and improves one’s intellect through quality education.

By signing up to the SDGs in their current form, the world leaders will be committing to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live births. This basically speaks to the issue of women dying in child birth.

While statistics may be an indicator of the context and effort needed to reduce these deaths, every woman that dies while bringing forth another human is one too many. That most of the deaths are preventable makes it imperative that governments deal with those issues, personal or environmental, that result in maternal mortality.

Closely linked to the deaths of mothers is the issue of deaths of newly born children, known as infant mortality. In this target, the world envisages through the SDGs that by 2030, we will end preventable deaths of newborns and under-five children. CSW58 government reports showed how deliberate measures have been taken by governments to reduce child mortality. Interestingly, the same was true of those governments that prioritised and adopted clear mechanisms to reduce maternal mortality, although there were fewer.

Against a context where alcohol and substance abuse is becoming a key issue, and the SADC region becoming both a consumer and transit of the booming business of drug trafficking, the SDGs commit to efforts to strengthen prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.

It is unusual to have road traffic accidents being cited in an analysis of health and well-being and that this is happening, is testimony of the degree at which this is becoming a serious issue to contend with. The SDGs envisage that by 2020, we will halve global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents.

Statistics show that more and more deaths are occurring from road related accidents mainly due to human error, but increasingly because of roads and road networks that are not able to keep up with the increased traffic. Potholes, narrow highways and insufficient signage with increased volumes of vehicles on the roads, are some of the factors to be addressed.

The SADC Gender Protocol covers extensively the issue of sexual and reproductive health specifically focussing on the rights of women and adolescent girls.

The issue of women’s unequal power to negotiate for safer sex is one of the priorities which need not only campaigns for alternative preventive methods, but also transformation of societal norms and standards, in relation to sex and sexuality.

This work should continue post-2015, as by 2030, the SDGs seeks to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.

Where good health is to be guaranteed, there is need for one to either have medical aid or health insurance or failing that then public hospitals should be fully funded to be able to provide competitive services. The goal to health is quite ambitious seeking to achieve universal health coverage (UHC), including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health care services, and access to safe, effective, quality, and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all. Unfortunately, these are tied to one’s access to income and or decent employment or a good medical cover, and governments will have to grapple with strategies to provide that.

‘By 2030 substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water, and soil pollution and contamination’ reads one of the targets under health.

While the issue of environmental degradation has been highly profiled, particularly in the context of climate change discourse, pollution, in its various forms needs to be urgently tackled.

With increased development, industrial pollution has also increased. Celebrating the finding of mineral deposits should come with responsibility to facilitate environmental impact assessments that will design responsible measures to contain the toxic materials arising from mining processes. While pollution affects all people regardless of sex, some studies have noted specific impacts on women’s reproductive systems arising from contamination.

A point of divergence among the countries expected to sign up to the SDGs will be on the campaign to ban tobacco. The new goals seek to strengthen implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries as appropriate. While there is general consensus on the negative effects of tobacco, the challenge for some countries arises from the fact, that the crop is one of the biggest contributors to the country’s wealth. Many women and men, while aware of risks of tobacco down the value chain, are however earning their livelihood from the crop.

One of the challenges in selected SADC countries in the lack of investment in research and development. While some countries are able to channel resources to support research and development, others do not have that luxury. This is perhaps the reason why one of the targets under SDGs is to strengthen research and development of ‘vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines… to protect public health and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all’.

Against statistics that show that for most developing countries, more than two-thirds of their health financing depends on external aid, the targets to ‘increase substantially health financing and the recruitment, development and training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries. . . ’ is key. There is need for strategies to ensure sustainable mechanisms to guarantee that the health sector is responsive to the needs of the country and more importantly that it is funded from domestic resources. The adverse implications for women and men, of a health system that is mortgaged on external financing, are clear.

Finally, the SDG on health seeks to ‘strengthen the capacity of all countries, particularly developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction, and management of national and global health risks’. This is important in that proactive measures to forestall some recurring humanitarian crises will be adopted. Documentation of lessons learnt will be a key part to inform governments at an individual and collective level of useful actions needed to avert or failing that, to mitigate the impacts of health risks.

Virginia Muwanigwa is a gender activist and Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe. She is also the Director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC).