In the list of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), “health and well being” is listed at number three — just below “no poverty” and “zero hunger”.
Assuming the goals are listed in order of importance, this would mean health and well being is the third-most important issue. But I must state that all the 17 goals are intricately intertwined. It is impossible, therefore, to create a sustainable and inclusive world by treating any of them with lesser attention than the others.
The SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into force on January 1, 2016, following adoption by world leaders at a historic United Nations Summit the previous September. They are designed to build on the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Nations are expected to frame policies and focus their efforts around the goals to end extreme poverty and inequalities and tackle climate change while ensuring no one is left behind. A future-proof world would be one where every member country meets all its commitments by 2030.
Admittedly, progress has been slow, more so in the developing world.
Back to SDG #3. It is critical that the national and county governments, private healthcare providers and other stakeholders work in partnership to deliver.
Health and wellbeing have two critical components: The preventive and the curative. Emphasis should put on the preventive since it costs less money to prevent disease than to treat it. This relieves the burden on healthcare providers and the resources can be invested elsewhere.
Secondly, once disease attacks the body, it does not go away easily. And, despite treatment, it may recur at some point, thereby weakening the individual and compromising their contribution to the economy.
Prevention can be as simple as providing information on basic hygiene, production and preparation of nutritious foods, exercise, rest and avoiding stress. That can go a long way in preventing communicable and non-communicable diseases.
The primary duty bearer here is the government — both national and county. But businesses also have a responsibility as they can only thrive in the long term when their employees, suppliers and customers enjoy good health.
To carry out successful prevention programmes and encourage sustainable partnerships, the country needs progressive healthcare policies.
We need policies on food production (improving the quality of soils and shifting from rain-fed to irrigated agriculture), food handling, manufacturing, importation and distribution to the end consumer.
Foods that are not properly inspected by competent authorities can end up endangering lives. Also, medicinal products that enter the market through improper channels can harm users.
We also need policies around industrial complexes that emit waste into the environment, polluting it. Where strict regulations are absent, industrial complexes are wont to release untreated emissions into the atmosphere, water systems and soils, often with devastating consequences.
However, policies alone are not enough: They must be implemented professionally and without discrimination. Let the regulators do their work without being compromised.
The curative is, perhaps, the most challenging in Kenya. One of the overarching challenges is accessibility: Well-equipped public health facilities are too few compared to the need. Patients are sometimes forced to travel long distances for quality healthcare. For a generally poor population, this is a heavy burden on many.
Often, the next available option are the privately run, profit-making facilities. But the cost is almost always out of reach for the ordinary Kenyan, making it a preserve of the few insured people.
To effectively manage the cost of healthcare, we must take it closer to the people, deal firmly with corruption and inefficiencies and build partnerships with businesses, faith-based organisations, the relevant NGOs and the people.
The people understand their needs better than anyone else and know the solutions. Any intervention, therefore, must be made with their full participation.
I am confident that we can meet SDG 3 by 2030, considering the investments that we have made over the past decade and a half. But this will require, first of all, a change in attitude by healthcare workers and the people, as well as the right leadership, investments and partnerships.
Ms Boomsma is the co-ordinator, Sustainable Inclusive Business (SIB) Kenya. @karin_boomsma.