Rio+20: Health is a sustainable development issue | Olav Kjørven

22 Jun 2012

Technicians testing blood for HIV in Tashkent, Uzbekistan Technicians testing blood for HIV in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

The global development framework is undergoing fundamental changes. Human challenges associated with climate change, decent work and access to quality social services are increasingly converging in the world’s developed and developing countries. The answers to these challenges revolve around the adoption of holistic, multi-sectoral national approaches that make use of best international practices, irrespective of where they come from.

Nowhere are these new realities more apparent than in the health sector. Non-communicable diseases—cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases—are posing growing challenges for upper- and middle-income countries, as well as lower-income and least developed countries. In responding to the changing nature of global public health challenges associated with non-communicable diseases, I have three messages to share.

First: many non-communicable diseases are a sustainable development issue. Up to ¼ of the disease burden could be prevented by reducing air, water and chemical pollution.
Second: Now more than ever, integration is the name of the game. Economic growth, environmental preservation and social equity can no longer be pursued as conflicting agendas.

Let us look at the question of how to provide access to electricity for the 1.3 billion people who don’t have it worldwide? There is a carbon constraint that suggests that creating energy access must not increase our overall level of pollution. There is a cost effectiveness constraint: solar panels and biomass are usually the less expensive option to provide energy to people who do not have it. And there is an important health dimension. We need to move away from dirty forms of traditional energy for the sake of our health.  Access to clean and sustainable energy can mean healthier families the world over.
Third: We should start building a coalition that sees, coordinates and communicates the connection between environmental and health agendas. We should leverage our experience in multi-sectoral responses to HIV to address governance and social dimensions of non-communicable diseases.

Talk to us: What actions would you like to see from the international community to make sure that global environmental and health agendas are connected?

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