Rio+20 puts health at the heart of development goals

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, recognizes in its final document the fundamental need to act on the social and environmental determinants of health to create inclusive, equitable, economically productive and healthy societies. Equity should be at the core of this task, with special attention given to the poor and the most vulnerable.

WHO/Europe, the Pan American Health Organization and WHO headquarters, taking part in the Conference, advocated for health as both a contribution to and a beneficiary of sustainable development.

Health in all policies is a key approach to sustainable development

Reductions in air, water and chemical pollution can prevent up to one fifth of the overall European burden of disease. Great opportunities for progress lie in reducing consumption levels and fostering healthy and green developments in energy, transport, housing, urban management and agriculture, as well as in the health sector. Sustainable development calls for a new health governance approach, introducing the health dimension into decision-making processes across all public policy areas.

Good health is a prerequisite for achieving sustainability goals

Universal health care is an important step in enhancing the health status of populations; it requires a multisectoral approach coupled with an overall strengthening of health systems. Promoting affordable access to prevention, treatment and care strengthens the fight against communicable diseases — such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis — and noncommunicable diseases — such as cancers and cardiovascular diseases — which remain a serious global concern, as well as emerging diseases and challenges arising from demographic change, including migration.

Health is a way of measuring the impact of sustainable development policies

Monitoring progress towards sustainable development goals means being able to evaluate the economic, environmental and social dimensions of policy. Investment in health alone cannot solve the problems of sovereign debt, volatile food prices or the environmental impact of climate change. But people’s health remains vitally important as a measure of the impact of policies in all these areas and this should be fully acknowledged by those aiming to promote a fairer, greener and more sustainable approach to globalization. Not only are health outcomes readily measurable, health concerns are immediate, personal and local.

About the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, on 20–22 June 2012 offered a unique opportunity to both acknowledge and benefit from the inextricable links between human health and sustainable development. The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development stated: “Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” This means that healthy people are better able to learn, earn and contribute positively to the societies in which they live. Conversely, a healthy environment is a prerequisite for good health and well-being.