COVID-19 has abruptly disrupted the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDG Report 2020, published on 7 July, reminds us of the noble aim to achieve 17 Goals and 169 targets by 2030. This trend report summarises a few of the key findings from the report.

Ecosystem crisis

The climate crisis and sustainability arguably dominated the 2019 SDG report. In 2020, greenhouse gases are predicted to reduce by 6%, short of the 7.6% target. Is this a short-term symptom of the pandemic? The 2020 SDG report compares the world before COVID-19 and the impact of the ongoing healthcare crisis. The virus demonstrates that the system is interconnected, and a holistic approach to health is needed.

The new coronavirus is a glaring reminder that COVID-19 is both a healthcare and biodiversity crisis. The report illustrates that wildlife trafficking disrupts ecosystems and contributes to the spread of infectious disease.

The SDGs crucially underscore how health is interdependent on multiple components, including social and environmental ecosystems, presenting complex challenges. The novel coronavirus has ‘exposed and exacerbated existing inequalities’, and this report puts the current situation into context for the sustainable development needed for future generations.

Impacts on children and women

A staggering 90% (1.57 billion) of children globally have been out of school during the lockdown. Remote learning highlights the digital divide as the required technology cannot be accessed by at least 500 million students. To add, children are at added risk owing to increased likelihoods of being pushed in child labour, child marriage, and trafficking.

Global infant mortality has fallen over recent decades, owing to strategies including increases in skilled health attendants and accessible family planning. However, basic women’s rights are threatened, with an increase of up to 30% in physical, sexual, and psychological gender-based violence. Gender equality remains a concern, as women spend thrice the time men do in unpaid domestic and care work.

Healthcare inequalities

The report states, ‘health systems must be urgently strengthened in countries at greatest risk.’ This is sobering beside the current data. In six African and Asian countries, 1 in 4 hospitals lack electrification. Moreover, with illness from other infectious diseases projected to spike, service cancellations will lead to a 100% rise in malaria deaths. As 70 countries report moderate-to-severe disruption to a total suspension of child vaccination, decades of progress might be reversed.

There remains a dearth of reliable data, and the SDG shows 50% of the world are without healthcare coverage.

Economic uncertainty

Half the world’s workforce (1.6 billion) rely on insecure informal employment and have been detrimentally hit. The 1919 constitutional principle of the International Labour Organization – protecting ‘the worker against sickness, disease, and injury arising from his [sic] employment’ – remains pertinent.

Economic uncertainty looms, with world trade down by 12 to 32%, a 40% decline in Foreign Direct Investment, and a 61% funding gap for achieving water and sanitation targets.

The global challenge

The question now is will we act together now to build a healthier, more resilient, and sustainable world? Historically epidemics lead to public health reform. Will this pandemic spur global health reform?

10 July 2020

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