Accessibility links

Breaking News

World's Nations Make Progress on Some, But Not All, Health Goals

Hilda Heine, President of Marshall Islands, addresses the United Nations High-level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, at U.N. headquarters, April 21, 2016.
Hilda Heine, President of Marshall Islands, addresses the United Nations High-level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, at U.N. headquarters, April 21, 2016.

More than 60 percent of the world's nations are expected to meet some of their health targets in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The targets include reducing child and maternal deaths and deaths from malaria. However, fewer than five percent are projected to meet their targets on reducing the number of overweight children, tuberculosis infections and traffic deaths.

The news comes in a report published Wednesday by the British journal The Lancet that analyzed health-related Sustainable Development Goals in 188 countries. The 17 wide-ranging goals spearheaded by the U.N. focus on improving health and education, ending poverty, combating climate change, making cities more sustainable and protecting oceans and forests. They were adopted at a U.N. summit in 2015.

Singapore, Iceland and Sweden were the highest performing countries in the health-related goals. Somalia, Central African Republic and Afghanistan ranked the lowest. Nordic and other European countries plus Australia, Canada, Antigua and Barbuda rank in the top 20. The U.S. ranks 24th.

The report, which was funded by the U.S. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the findings should help shape policies in order to address long-standing and emerging health challenges.

Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute of Health Metrics Evaluation and a professor of global health at the University of Washington, was the lead author.

Murray said in The Lancet, "China, Cambodia and many other middle and low-income nations deserve recognition for improving their citizens’ lives, as evidenced by impressive improvements in under-five mortality, neonatal mortality, vaccine coverage, maternal mortality, and malaria.”

The report was prepared ahead of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, beginning in New York later this month.

The authors pointed to policies that set the stage for substantial improvement. For instance, China expanded its health insurance scheme to rural populations and unemployed urban residents in the first years of this century and followed with further reforms in 2009-10; similarly, Cambodia’s health reforms from 1990 onwards have laid the groundwork toward national health planning.

Having access to health care seems to be key. Between the turn of the century and 2016, a number of countries made notable improvements in achieving universal health care. They included Cambodia, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Laos, Turkey and China; however, some low-income countries, such as Lesotho and the Central African Republic, as well as high-income countries, such as the U.S., showed minimal gains.

Kazakhstan, Timor-Leste, Angola, Nigeria and Swaziland were projected to have the largest improvements on the overall health-related goals index by 2030.

On the downside, only seven percent of countries were projected to meet the HIV/AIDS target, and no country was projected to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) target on tuberculosis.

To reach their conclusions, the study authors measured 37 of 50 health-related indicators from 1990 until 2016 for 188 countries. Then, on the basis of these past trends, they projected health-related progress to 2030. They said understanding both gains and gaps is essential for decision-makers as they aim to improve the health of their populations.