COVID-19 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

COVID-19 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals

On March 4th, Development Minister Gerd Müller called for a more global approach to fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, "Only if we all pull together can we halt the spread of the coronavirus – at home in our own country and throughout the world." The minister spoke out in favor of what he called a “world crisis management”, an institution that could be headed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, as it is the “hour of the United Nations.” As COVID-19 is now on every continent, this pandemic is a wake-up call for the whole world. Global cooperation is becoming more and more necessary, and even more so, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

As the Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition is a global competition that challenges aspiring and current entrepreneurs to submit projects or ideas that champion and implement one or more of the SDGs, it is a good idea to look at some ways the world is starting to come together to manage this crisis through the lens of two of the seventeen SDGs.

Good Health and Well-Being

The first SDG is SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being. This is, of course, directly related to COVID-19 and its impact on not just overall health, but healthcare systems. SDG 3’s goal is “To ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” Each SDG has targets that further elaborate on what the SDG hopes to achieve. There are two SDG 3 targets specifically that relate quite well to our current crisis, targets 3.8 and 3.D:

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.D Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.

Affordable and universal healthcare has become a pressing issue in recent years, especially in the United States. During this crisis, there has been the question of, “How much is the test?”, or when getting treated, “How much will this cost me?”. And when you live in a place where going to the ER will ruin you financially, or even bankrupt you, you are less inclined to go and get treated, or even tested for that matter, putting yourself and others at risk. Good health is a community effort, not an individual one - and it is also a global effort. Target 3.D speaks directly to this.

A major topic of the COVID-19 conversation is the preparedness of countries, and the difference between those who responded to the virus very early, or too late, as well as the adequacy or inadequacy of their response. Germany recorded its first case on January 27th. With almost 99,000 cases as of April 5th, the country ranks 4th in the world. However, with 1.5k deaths, Germany has a fatality rate of about 1.4%. Aside from testing people more than most nations, and with mostly the young and healthy being infected, the country was well-prepared for the unavoidable outbreak. As ICU beds and ventilators run critically low in many hospitals like in the US and Italy, Germany has 40,000 beds, with most being equipped with ventilators. With about 20,000 of those beds being open, Germany has begun to bring in the critically ill from the most affected countries in Europe: Italy, Spain, and France (they have also sent 30,000 ventilators to Italy).

Partnerships During a Crisis

Germany has been a leader in helping other countries combat the virus and partnering with researchers worldwide. Müller’s call to control the virus through global cooperation falls in line with the last SDG, SDG 17: Partnerships. COVID-19 has forced the world to confront the effects of having unsustainable systems and institutions. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres put it, “The pandemic has reminded us, in the starkest way possible, of the price we pay for weaknesses in health systems, social protections and public services.” Inclusive partnerships between governments, private sectors, and civil society come together to build a shared vision and shared values for a sustainable world, which is what SDG 17 calls for to ultimately achieve the goals.

While the effects of COVID-19 on issues related to SDG 3 are devastating, it is quite the opposite for SDG 17. Although SDG 17 is titled Partnerships, it does not explicitly mean that countries need to work together to fight a crisis, rather, it is about countries working together to make those unsustainable systems and institutions sustainable, so that a future crisis has less of an impact, or is prevented all together. Two of the SDG’s targets to look at are:

17.16 Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, in particular developing countries.

17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships.

Countries have been coming together to share knowledge and the other aspects of 17.16. Partnerships in research for treatment and a vaccine have already formed, with huge amounts of monetary funding, like the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. The CEPI was founded in Norway in 2017, and is a “global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organizations” that provides financial boosting for the development of vaccines for epidemics. The CEPI has successfully supported vaccines for malaria and tuberculosis and has now stepped up its funding to support rapid progress towards a COVID-19 vaccine. Germany, Australia, Japan, and other countries have joined together to support the alliance with their resources, like the University of Queensland, or directly funding the alliance, such as Germany making 140 million euros available. CEPI continues to increase its funding capacity in order to get at least 3 vaccines through clinical trials and ultimately, distribute to the public.

Coming Together to Fight the Crisis

With stay-at-home orders in place and many businesses closed, people have had to find digital ways to connect and contribute to fighting against the pandemic. At-risk people, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, put themselves in danger when they go out to get essentials, such as groceries or to walk their dog. To address this problem, a group of entrepreneurs have come together to create a matching service for finding and offering help during this crisis, fittingly named Helping Hands. Free of charge, the service allows you to seek help in your location, as well as provide opportunities to those who want to help. It even provides a PDF in different languages that you can print out to offer your help, with space for people in need to leave their name, apartment floor and number.

Another community partnership that has formed is called Helpful Engineering. The open-source group of over 3,000 volunteers looks for solutions to COVID-19, and has been working on over 35 projects, like open-sourcing 3D models to build tubes for ventilators. The community is made up of engineers (to build and test open-source designs), doctors and medical professionals, mathematicians, investors, and others who have skills they can provide such as distribution.

There is no doubt that the world will be devastatingly impacted from COVD-19, even after it is over. “Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and other global challenges...Our roadmap remains the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals,” says Guterres. With more and more global and community partnerships forming, knowledge and expertise being shared, and resources being funneled into research and vaccine development, the hope is that not only will the damage be mitigated, but that those partnerships will continue to be maintained, and that the progress towards achieving the SDGs will advance exponentially. The 2030 Agenda may have not expected a pandemic of this kind, but if we reach the level of sustainability it calls for, not only can we live in a healthier world, we can live one that’s better for all.

What is your country doing to help hospitals manage the crisis? How is your community helping each other navigate stay-at-home orders?

Do you have an idea on how to improve cooperation and partnership between citizens and the state institutions or that contributes to the SDGs? Join the 2020 Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition and improve your idea at the point to make it a real project. If you're already running a project, you can submit it in the projects category and share your experience with many other aspiring entrepreneurs. You can learn from each other and from our free online training on entrepreneurship.  This could be your first step in sustainable entrepreneurship.

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