Health and well-being key to achieving Sustainable Development Goals: Regional Forum on Sustainable Development

21–22 March 2019, Geneva, Switzerland

The Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the UNECE Region is meeting in Geneva on 21–22 March 2019, to discuss policy solutions, best practices and challenges as countries work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event is organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in close cooperation with the Regional United Nations System, including WHO/Europe.

More than 700 participants from 50 countries are registered to attend, to discuss progress and achievement on the SDGs, including those on education (SDG 4), employment (SDG 8), equity (SDG 10), climate change (SDG 13) and peace (SDG 16). Health and well-being are an essential precondition to achieving these goals, and their achievement will itself improve health, as illustrated by the examples below.

  • Education has positive lifelong effects on health through increased employment opportunities and income, better living conditions, confidence levels and literacy, including health literacy. Child and adult learning can also have positive effects on life satisfaction, mental health and changes in health-supporting behaviour, such as smoking cessation, active lifestyles, healthy eating and duration of breastfeeding.
  • Health and employment are inextricably linked. Individuals in poor health are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, as poor health reduces their ability to work. When they are in work, poor health reduces their productivity. This increases the likelihood of job loss, sick leave or early retirement.
  • More equitable societies tend to be healthier societies. Countries with higher levels of income inequality are more likely to have lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates, as well as higher prevalence of mental illness and obesity. Health outcomes and exposure to health-promoting conditions follow a social gradient: this social gradient in health and life chances runs from the top to the bottom of the socioeconomic spectrum, with the poorest facing the worst health outcomes and conditions. These inequities persist over the life cycle and are passed down through generations.
  • Climate change has no borders. It is already having a serious impact on human lives and health. It threatens the basic elements we all need for good health – clean air, safe drinking water, nutritious food supply and safe shelter – and will undermine decades of progress in global health. We cannot afford to delay action to tackle climate change any further.
  • Health and peace are closely linked. One cannot have one without the other. Globally, it is estimated that 60% of preventable maternal deaths, 53% of under-5 deaths and 45% of neonatal deaths take place in settings of conflict, displacement and natural disasters. Increasing numbers of people are leaving their homelands because of human rights violations, persecution and conflict. The WHO European Region now hosts the largest number of people who migrate for these reasons.

WHO staff will be present, in particular to discuss health equity, health and climate change, and employment and health. The SDGs are becoming increasingly visible drivers of progress. This meeting will enable people from across the Region to exchange practical and concrete measures that are making a difference.