Surgeon in surgical mask. Juan José Richards Echeverría/Flickr

The Business of Improving Global Health

The new Sustainable Development Goals include a vow to reduce premature deaths caused by chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But the new health-related goals are more ambitious than ever, while, in many ways, the public-health situation has never been more challenging.

ZURICH – The dramatic success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in driving advances in human health will be a hard act to follow. In just 15 years, child mortality was nearly halved, and malaria deaths declined by 60%. Today nearly 15 million people worldwide receive treatment for AIDS, helping them continue to be productive members of society, compared to only about 10,000 people in 2000, when the MDGs were launched.

Can the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), just adopted by the United Nations to guide global development efforts for the next 15 years, replicate the MDGs’ success? The strong track record of the MDGs certainly provides grounds for hope. But the new health-related goals are broader and more ambitious than before. And the public-health situation is in many ways more challenging than in 2000.

The new SDGs set a lofty goal: for the first time, world leaders have vowed to reduce premature deaths caused by chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. This is a tall order at a time of rapid population growth and rapid aging. Chronic diseases are the main – and growing – cause of death in developed and developing countries alike. And more than two billion people still lack access to essential medicines.

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