By, Elizabeth Tenney, PMI Public Health Intern
When looking to the future of public health for this brand new year, two things come to mind. The first of which being the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit held last September, where the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were created. Second, is the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which was held just last month in Paris. While the SDGs explicitly state “Good health and well-being” as a goal, many of the other goals directly affect health as well; some of the more obvious being “zero hunger” and “no poverty.” But how about “affordable energy” and “decent work and economic growth?” Do the goals of “sustainable cities and communities” and “climate action” directly affect the health of communities, too? Well, according to the authors of Indicators linking health and sustainability in the post-2015 development agenda, absolutely!
Did you know that “a reduction of key environmental risks, including exposure to air, water, and chemical pollution, can help to prevent up to a quarter of the total burden of disease, including a large proportion of childhood deaths?”
Indicators linking health and sustainability in the post-2015 development agenda draws attention to health as an outcome of sustainable development and proposes that health-related indicators should be selected to measure the progress of sustainable development goals in non-health sectors.
By highlighting four thematic areas: cities, food and agriculture, energy, and water and sanitation, the authors showed that there are co-benefits of health and health equity associated with sustainable development policies. The primary focus of the article was on environmental factors, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increased resistance to environmental change. At the time this article was published, in January of 2015, environmental factors had been “relatively neglected, despite importance.”
The four thematic areas were chosen specifically because of their relevance to ongoing sustainable development discussions. Embedding these indicators can help to raise awareness of the probability of health gains from sustainable development policies. By making these policies more attractive to decision makers, they are more likely to be implemented.
Sharing this knowledge with decision and policy makers is essential because it can be used to “support better governance, improve accountability, and facilitate communication with communities, civil society, and the private sector.”
You may be asking yourself, “Does this apply to me?” Well, we can choose to hold ourselves accountable. We can be accountable not only for the information, but for our environment and our own health, as well as the health of those who may be directly or indirectly affected by our actions. We can apply this knowledge when making decisions, both in the workplace and within our communities. By getting the word out and creating partnerships, we can make the choice to facilitate sustainable development.
I was really excited to find this article because the topics of climate and sustainability have become increasingly popular over the last year or so. I loved that the article incorporates the importance of health in all aspects of development. As a public health enthusiast, Indicators linking health and sustainability in the post-2015 development agenda applied my personal passion to other peoples’ areas of interest. I think that may have been what intrigued me the most. Also, the information was conveyed concisely and in a way that people of other professions could understand, which is essential to effecting decision makers outside of the health sector.
I was surprised to find that this article was written in January of 2015. The authors may not have known how extremely relevant and timely this article would be when they wrote it. I was happy to see that climate, an area the article described as “neglected,” has taken the spotlight in only one year’s time.
It was also encouraging to see the authors’ enthusiasm for sustainability and for creating partnerships throughout the article. We at Palmetto Medical Initiative share in this enthusiasm, as these are some of the core foundations of our organization! While we work with communities to meet their needs for delivering high-quality healthcare, we also strive to create long-term change and tangible improvements in the overall quality of life.
PMI is made possible by the very partnerships the article references. By uniting the resources available through globally minded churches, universities, organizations, and individuals, Palmetto Medical Initiative has achieved sustainable progress in the communities with which we work.
 (Dora, et al., 2015, p. 180)
 (Dora, et al., 2015, p.388)
Photo by Steve Broadway for PMI