Global Goals Day: Spotlighting Health and Education on the Journey to 2030

Five years today, 193 governments agreed upon a set of 17 goals with the mission to end poverty and create a more equitable, peaceful, and prosperous world, ensuring no one is left behind, by 2030. These goals, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), provide issue-specific targets across areas such as food security, gender equality, and climate change.
Despite progress in many areas, there is a consensus that international governments are not on track to achieve the goals by 2030. This is further reinforced by the global pandemic the world is now facing, which threatens to reverse progress, not only through its immediate health consequences, but its secondary impacts on human development. This is particularly the case for global health and education, which provide people with the wellbeing, skills and knowledge needed to fulfil their potential, and underpin the ability to achieve many of the SDGs.
The SDGs remain a crucial roadmap to ending poverty by 2030, and indeed, building back better following the impact of the pandemic. But if global communities are to thrive, and not just survive, we must demand that health outcomes, including on immunisation, tuberculosis (TB), nutrition, as well as inclusive education are prioritised.

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Immunisation is one of the most effective interventions in global health. Not only does it save lives, but it also drives economic and social development. For example, every $1 invested in early childhood vaccines yields $54 in return, while connecting the world’s most marginalised to other vital health services. Yet global coverage has stalled in the last decade. Furthermore, we face a dangerous reality where at least 80 million children under the age of one are at risk of missing routine vaccinations as a result of the disruption caused by COVID-19, exposing them to life-threatening and debilitating diseases, such as polio.
Early diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions, such as tuberculosis (TB), which kills more people than any other infectious disease, is essential. However, every year, 30% of new TB cases go undiagnosed, unreported, or untreated. This alarming figure could be set to rise as ‘lock-downs’ have made accessing clinics and retrieving medicines difficult, increasing the likelihood of transmission to others. Over the next five years, it is predicted that we could see a rise in TB related deaths by 20%, disproportionately impacting those who are malnourished, living with HIV or in impoverished communities.
Like immunisation and services for infectious diseases, access to adequate nutrition is a fundamental priority. Poor nutrition weakens our immune systems, thwarts our body’s ability to recover from illness, and is responsible for 45% of the deaths of children under the age of five. Even more children are set to be endangered by the effects of malnutrition as a result of the pandemic. For every decline in global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) percentage point from COVID-19, an additional 4 million children’s growth will be stunted (when a child has a low height for age).
Malnutrition has spillover effects into education too; it strips away 500 million school days from children each year, which could be prevented by school nutrition programmes. COVID-19 has exacerbated this issue of school absenteeism, with 91% of children no longer in school, and even after the pandemic has passed, 10 million more secondary school girls may not return. This heightens girls’ vulnerability to contracting HIV and compromises their protection from violence. In the next decade, it is estimated that there will be 2 million more cases of female genital mutilation and 13 million more child marriages

These stark and staggering facts and predictions can’t be ignored. The spotlight needs to fall on these intersecting issues of global health and education in order to achieve the SDGs and recover from COVID-19, and there is immense opportunity to do so.

Urgency and leadership: The UK’s opportunity for influence
The successful track record of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) programmes across the world, coupled with the hosting of the G7 Summit and COP26 in 2021, provides the UK with a powerful influencing opportunity on the global stage. The UK government must seize the chance to continue the good work of DFID within the recently established Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and direct attention towards immunisation, TB, nutrition, and inclusive education.
One way to do this is by making ambitious and early pledges ahead of the critical financing moments for global health and education coming up next year, such as the Nutrition for Growth Summit and the Global Partnership for Education replenishment. Existing partnerships and previous pledges to other multilateral organisations, however, cannot be neglected during this time of crisis either. The UK must continue its duty of making strong investments in education programmes in emergencies through its key partnership with Education Cannot Wait, and ensure that funding to organisations such as The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is distributed according to original timelines. And crucially, at a time where global collaboration is vital, the UK government should call for more and better coordination between stakeholders, while encouraging global governments to fund impactful multilateral organisations across global health and education sectors.
Global health and education are a cornerstone for all development and therefore must be prioritised to fulfil the commitments made by world leaders in 2015. With progress jeopardised by COVID-19 and just 10 years remaining to achieve the SDGs, our actions over the coming months will set the precedent for many years to come. A well-coordinated, fully funded, and holistic approach is the only way we can prevent further damage to human development and end poverty by 2030.