Health was a major goal in the development agenda that was characterized by the MDGs. There has been an improvement in global public health especially in the low income countries of South East Asia and Sub Sahara Africa with an increase in life expectancy, decrease in death by preventable diseases like malaria and a decrease in maternal mortality. However this has not been without challenges of the 21st Century especially with changing socio-economic status in the society and globalization. With this in mind it is of great importance for health to be given a substantial focus in the next development goals which will be adopted by UN member states this September.
The Unfinished agenda in health as well as emerging issues must be accounted for in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and treated with equal importance. A basic thing that this new development plan must ensure is that there’s an end to all preventable deaths. There is a decrease since 1995 of the number of deaths resulting from preventable diseases, especially infant, child and maternal deaths. Children need not die out of pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition. Mothers also need not die while giving birth. This must be addressed especially in all high burden countries.
Another issue that has been left unfinished is SRHR. Reproductive health must also be included in the next development goals. It would be a milestone towards a better informed society should comprehensive sexuality education be included in the mainstream learning institutions. In the current state many young people acquire information regarding sexuality mainly from mass media which means that when they start being sexually active they are not able to make informed decisions which in turn has translated in a high spread of HIV/AIDS among the youth, unplanned and teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortions. Having an informed youth right from early age will secure the reproductive health of the next generation. Africa especially needs to open up and have conversations about sex without fear of discussing a topic that has been considered taboo; this will include parents having these conversations with their children. Social media and mainstream media like TV and radio could also be a good platform to engage with the youth in this regard.
Policy makers and those who will be charged with the implementation of SDGs must take this into consideration. SRHR should be treated as a universal health issue. This will also mean giving the community access to family planning services. More than 120m couples still have unmet need for contraception while there are 80m unintended pregnancies approximately. Looking at it from the population angle, this accounts for the high birth rates among the young demographic group. When this happens to young girls especially those still in school, they are forced by circumstances to terminate the pregnancy in unsafe conditions. This is something that can be prevented right from the onset by giving young people the right information. At the same time, countries that still have conservative and strict laws against abortion must also reevaluate their stand in light of the many deaths and complications that occur due to unsafe abortions which occur in secret and in unsafe conditions often done by unqualified personnel.
Closely related to this is Sexually Transmitted Illnesses (STI) which includes Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphilis, HIV/AIDS, and Herpes among others. Of course HIV/AIDS has been the focus but this doesn’t take the threat from the other diseases away. These illnesses remain common in not only the Global South but also in the High Income Countries. There has been a decrease in the rate of HIV/AIDS but still across the demographic groups it is high among the youth especially in Africa. With unsafe sex and inadequate information, the youth is a group at risk. This must be addressed especially by CSOs through behavioral change programs tailored for the youth. There are many initiatives out there towards Getting to Zero new HIV infections but their efforts may not be effective if all members don’t come together and allow for conversations on responsible sexual behavior.
With the change in lifestyle and a development in technology, there are emerging issues in health that must also be addressed in the next development agenda. Top in this list is cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancers; breast and cervical cancer especially. Another emerging issue is mental health. Mental health has been pushed to the margins of health goals but the global health report indicates this is a serious issue in the community. Of special note is post-natal and peri-natal mental health, cases of depression prior and after child birth are on the rise. Infertility is another issue that need be considered especially with the current technology, every woman who wants a child and is threatened by infertility must have access to the right information and the options that she can consider. Another issue that must be considered is the women’s choice to have or not to have children.
Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is also an important issue that should be considered a matter of public health. Cases of VAWG in many forms like sexual violence, FGM, rape, spousal rape continue to persist in society. While the 21st Century is the best time for a woman given the many strides society has made in recognizing women’s rights, many women in different countries across the globe continue to have their rights violated by acts of violence. There can’t be development if some members of the society exist within the society in fear, therefore the need to incorporate VAWG in Health under the SDGs can’t be overstressed enough.
Finally, health is an indicator of overall development and a healthy populace will mean active people who can steer the world towards development which is what The Post-2015 Development Agenda is about.