Achieving the new global health targets – A hole in the SDGs

There is considerable excitement about the Sustainable Development Goals and their relevance to child health and child rights. This was the focus of the recent International Society for Social Pediatrics and Child Health meeting in Geneva which was addressed by the new Director of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at WHO, Dr Anthony Costello.

The first of the new Goals is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, and Goal 10 is to reduce inequality within and among countries. All would agree with these goals and the increase in inequalities across the globe and within most countries, including industrialised countries, is stark. Many would feel that the increase in wealth, whereby now (according to a January 2014 report by Oxfam) the 85 wealthiest individuals in the world have a combined wealth equal to that of the bottom 50% of the world’s population, or about 3.5 billion people, is a criminal injustice.

Can inequalities in health and severe poverty be eradicated simply by creating more growth,as the Goals seem to suggest?

Here is another anomaly in the Goals, how to combine growth (Goal 8 Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth) with action to tackle climate change (Goal 13 Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts). Sustainable growth is hard to define but certainly can’t include using more fossil fuels or scarce resources or increased consumption, without massive increase in carbon emissions.

Is it possible to both reduce poverty and tackle climate change? Indeed it is – but only if wealth is seen as part of the problem rather than the solution. I recommend an excellent article in the Guardian this week by Zoe Williams and the cartoon she describes by a Swedish band – together with the more academic paper by Woodward on Incrementum ad Absurdum.

I encourage CHIFA members to provide some answers to these difficult questions.

Tony Waterston

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