SDG 3 seeks to promote health and well-being for all. While the overall health of the world’s population has improved, many population groups have been left behind. Many diseases remain widespread and deadly, yet are preventable with access to appropriate healthcare. Unsafe drinking water, polluted air, and poor housing conditions are all linked with negative health impacts, and the goal calls for change in each of these areas. Progress in SDG 3 means stronger, more productive individuals and communities, and fulfills the basic requirement of good health for the successful pursuit many other SDGs. SDG 3 is further refined by targets that can be more readily translated into actions. These targets highlight the interconnected nature of the goals: For example, strategies to support Good Health and Well-Being also promote progress toward SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). Below are a series of synergies that can come from providing access to products, services and systems that address Good Health and Well-Being.

Access to Healthcare Services

Expanding access to healthcare services is fundamental to improving health and wellbeing. In many parts of the world, lack of access to essential care means high numbers of preventable deaths. More than 300,000 women died from maternity-related causes in 2015, mainly in regions where antenatal care is less common and where most women do not receive professional assistance during birth.1 Vaccine and medicine access worldwide is also insufficient for diseases like HIV, pneumonia, and measles, allowing outbreaks to persist.2,3 Even where quality health services are available, affordability often proves to be the greatest barrier; low-income individuals in the US are less likely to have health insurance or to pursue primary or specialty care,4 facing higher rates of morbidity and mortality as a consequence.5 Recent action to bring health care to more people has made great strides in each of these areas, but more work remains to be done.

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Access to Clean Water

Safe drinking water is fundamental for a healthy life, yet 2 billion people still use a drinking source contaminated by human waste, and over 800 million lack access to a basic drinkingwater source.6 Contaminated water spreads diseases like typhoid, cholera, and diarrhea, which kills more than 2,000 children each day — a greater toll than AIDS, malaria, and measles combined.7 Even where improved water systems exist, contaminants like lead and nitrates can elevate the risks of blood poisoning and cancer.8,9 Few cases better illustrate the fundamental link between clean water and health than the recent water crisis in Flint, Michigan; in the 18 months following a switch in water source for Flint residents, 12 people died and 87 fell ill from the unsafe water.10 Fortunately, solutions are possible and impactful: A $1 intervention to provide clean water access creates $25.50 of benefits on average as people spend less time and money dealing with illness, and as deaths from unsafe water are prevented.11

Access to Clean Air

The health effects of poor air quality are a growing concern as pollution levels increase globally, contributing to one out of every nine deaths12 and creating unhealthy air conditions for 95% of the world’s population.13 The use of coal and fossil fuels releases a large amount of pollutants, including particulate matter and black carbon, which causes respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.14 Indoors, nearly 40% of the population still relies on the burning of biomass, coal, and charcoal for heating and cooking, making air inside the home unsafe to breathe.15 Replacing exposure to unsafe air with access to clean air is an urgent need to enable healthy and full lives for all.

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Access to Adequate Housing and Living Conditions

Access to affordable and quality housing is foundational for healthy lives. Individuals who experience homelessness or housing instability suffer negative mental health impacts and have more difficulty adhering to health treatment.16 Poor housing conditions also have adverse effects on well-being, often linked to respiratory problems when mold or hazardous materials are present.17 Problems such as these combine with lack of sanitation and clean water for the nearly 1 billion people living in substandard housing conditions in the southern hemisphere.18 Fortunately, efforts targeting better access to stable and adequate housing have been shown to improve health outcomes for many residents.19

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SDG 3: References

1 World Health Statistics 2018: Monitoring health for the SDGs, World Health Organization (WHO)
2 Ibid
3 Progress and challenges with achieving universal immunization coverage: 2016 estimates of immunization coverage. WHO/UNICEF Estimates of National Immunization Coverage (Data as of July 2017). Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017
4 Dhruv Khullar Dave A. Chokshi. 2018. Health, Income, & Poverty: Where We Are & What Could Help. Health Policy Brief. Health Affairs
5 Andersen, R. et al. 2002. Access to Medical Care for Low-Income Persons: How Do Communities Make a Difference? Medical Care Research and Review
6 Progress on drinking-water, sanitation, and hygiene, 2017. WHO
7 Diarrhea: Common Illness, Global Killer. CDC
8 Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated with the Flint Drinking Water Crisis: A Spatial Analysis of Risk and Public Health Response. Hanna-Attisha M, LaChance J, Sadler RC, Champney Schnepp A. Am J Public Health. 2016; 106(2):283-90
9 Environmental justice and drinking water quality: are there socioeconomic disparities in nitrate levels in U.S. drinking water? Laurel A. Schaider, Lucien Swetschinski, Christopher Campbell, and Ruthann A. Rudel. Environmental Health. 2019
10 Flint Water Crisis: Everything You Need to Know. NRDC. 2018
11 Diarrhea: Common Illness, Global Killer. CDC
12 Ambient air pollution: A global assessment of exposure and burden of disease. 2016. WHO
13 State of Global Air. 2018. Health Effects Institute
15 Access to Modern Energy: Assessment and Outlook for Developing and Emerging Regions. 2012. IIASA.
16 Taylor, Lauren. Housing And Health: An Overview of the Literature. Health Affairs Health Policy Briefs. June 2018
17 Butler, Stuart and Marcella Cabello. Housing as a Hub for Health, Community Services, and Upward Mobility. Brookings Institute. March 2018
18 Slum Almanac 2015/2016. Tracking Improvement in the Lives of Slum Dwellers. Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme. UN Habitat
19 Taylor, Lauren. Housing And Health: An Overview of the Literature. Health Affairs Health Policy Briefs. June 2018.