Health and the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets unanimously adopted at the United Nations General Assembly Summit in September 2015. The goals will come into force in January 2016 and will drive international development work for the next fifteen years.


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and adoption of the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs), seeks to incorporate and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental). The new agenda represents a fundamental shift in development thinking by recognising the underlying and dynamic interlinkages between the three dimensions, and by driving universal and integrated development across all countries. The SDGs look to address the root causes of poverty, and how different drivers of change influence and relate to one another to achieve transformation for sustainable development.

SDG iconsMillennium Development Goal progress in health in the Commonwealth

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were the world’s time-bound (deadline 2015) and quantifiable targets for addressing extreme poverty across different dimensions – income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion – while promoting gender equality, education and environmental sustainability. Commonwealth member states have made significant progress in achieving goals 4, 5 and 6 which related to health.

MDG4: Reduce child mortality

  • Under-five deahts worldwide have fallen from over 12.7 million in 1990 to approximately 5.9 million in 2015.

MDG5: Improve maternal health

  • Maternal deaths have fallen by 45% between 1990 and 2012.

MDG6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

  • Globally, AIDS related deaths have fallen by 35% since reaching a peak in 2005.

Key health-related MDG challenges

Although the Commonwealth is home to one-third (2.2 billion of the world’s population:

  • About 3.2 million children under five years old died in Commonwealth countries in 2015, that is just over half of the global child mortality estimates of around 5.9 million children.
  • Over half (51%) of the estimated 289,000 maternal deaths globally in 2013 occurred in Commonwealth countries.
  • More than half (22 million) of the 37 million people in the world living with HIV/AIDS live in Commonwealth countries.
  • Of those living with HIV/AIDS in Commonwealth countries, just over a third (8.5 million) are known to have access to anti-retroviral therapy.
  • In 2013, the number of malaria cases estimated worldwide was 198 million, more than half occurred in the commonwealth and 6 of the 10 countries with the highest number of malaria cases are Commonwealth members.
  • The majority (>80%) o fthe 38 million premature global deaths due to NCDs occur in developing countries, which make up the largest part of the Commonwealth membership.
  • During the Ebola outbreak, more than 12,000 people were infected in Sierra Leone, which is a Commonwealth country, 3,865 people died as a result.

Taking forward the SDGs


The SDGs seek to learn from and address the gaps, disparities and challenges that remain from the MDGs. The narrow focus of the MDGs has been replaced by an integrated and all-encompassing agenda, which emphasises poverty eradication, inclusive growth, environmental sustainability, equality and a people-centred agenda within 17 goals and 169 associated targets. Health plays an important role across all SDGs, driving progress towards sustainable development.

Whilst health outcomes cut across the SDGs, SDG3 specifically addresses health- ensure health lives and promote well-being for all at all ages – and encompasses 9 targets:

  • 3.1 By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.
  • 3.2 By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births.
  • 3.3 By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases.
  • 3.4 By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.
  • 3.5 Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol.
  • 3.6 By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents.
  • 3.7 By 2030, 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 programs.
  • 3.8 Achieve universal health coverage, 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.
  • 3.9 by 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.
  • 3.a Strengthen the implementation of the world Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate.
  • 3.b Support the 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, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all.
  • 3.c Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States.
  • 3.d Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.

Further Resources for Information

The Sustainable Development Goals:
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development:
SDG Video:

Role of the Commonwealth Secretariat in supporting the SDGs for Health

Whilst health-related drivers and outcomes cut across the SDGs, the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Health and Education Unit (HEU) is specifically targeting policy strengthening to enable Commonwealth countries to take forward Goal 3. The HEU focuses on building on good practices and scaling up action, through country capacity building and provision/dissemination of publications and resources, and through global advocacy and partnerships.