New report: Focus on Children for UN’s Global Sustainable Development Goals

2 December 2019

Mats Målqvist is a professor of global health

Mats Målqvist, professor of global health

“We need to highlight the rights of children to health and the future in the public discussion of social matters,” says Mats Målqvist, professor of global health and one of the authors of the report titled “Placing Children at the Centre of the Sustainable Development Goals”.

In 2015 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Global Sustainability Goals, a strategy paper formulated by 193 countries that sets the course for sustainable global development. By fulfilling 17 well-integrated goals, extreme poverty is to be eliminated, inequality and injustice reduced, peace promoted and climate crises resolved. The goals aim to make this a reality for all people in all countries, but for many of the world’s youngest inhabitants, progress is still defined in terms of survival.

To more clearly place children and young people at the centre of fulfilling these goals – through what is known as Agenda 2030 – the Swedish Society of Medicine and the Swedish Institute for Global Health Transformation (SIGHT) recently launched a roadmap for global child health. One of the authors of the report is Mats Målqvist, professor of global health at Uppsala University.

“With our document we want to highlight children’s rights to health and the future in the public discussion, and the initiative has met with great interest. At the same time, we note a growing grassroots movement heading in the same direction, and it is clear that more and more people realise that the adult world has an obligation to today’s children to create stable and sustainable environments,” says Målqvist.

The road map – Placing Children at the Centre of the Sustainable Development Goals – emphasises that global progress needs to be defined on the basis of the next generation’s right to flourish throughout their lives. The prerequisites for each person reaching full potential include “good health”, a complex concept influenced by economic, ecological and social factors. To achieve lasting improvements, the report’s authors state that child health cannot remain a matter for health care and medical services.

“Our health is affected by everything that surrounds us, and by placing children at the centre of each of the 17 global sustainability goals, we increase the relevance of the framework and strengthen the interdisciplinary commitment to implement its content. Focusing on future generations also makes it clear that the challenges we face are acute, but also long-term, and cannot be rectified with quick solutions.”

The report identifies a number of areas that should be prioritised to improve global child health. Among other things, it advocates customised initiatives for groups with the greatest need, equipping children with knowledge of their rights – such as education, health care and security – and bridging the gap between evidence-based knowledge and its implementation in global society.

“Although Agenda 2030 already has five years behind it, we are still discussing which are the best educational efforts and ways to measure progress regarding the goals. I dare say that we know enough to take action. Now it is important to create good methods to change the structures, approaches and values that so far have prevented us from implementing the cost-effective interventions we already have available.”

Efforts are now continuing to launch the report both in Sweden and internationally. The ambitions are high, but Mats Målqvist takes an optimistic view of the potential for making an international impact.

“One of our research team’s projects is in Nepal and is aimed at addressing deficiencies in how obstetric care helps newborns start breathing. It turned out that Nepali nurses did not dare to use their skills without direct orders from doctors, and not until we worked on the hierarchical structure did we manage to make an overall difference. My point is that we need more knowledge about implementation and cultural differences, and the fact that the world has been able to unite around a clear agenda with common goals shows that we can make progress.”