3 min read 24 Jan 23
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for achieving a better, more sustainable future for all. In this article, we review recent developments in the areas of health and well-being, and consider what still needs to be done to achieve the related SDGs.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 interconnected goals, which collectively form a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. The goals cover areas such as ending poverty and improving health, reducing inequality, tackling climate change and preserving our oceans and forests.
Two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered – and in some cases reversed – progress towards many of the SDGs. The effects of the pandemic were not limited to its impacts on human health. Its pervasive reach also managed to exacerbate poverty, halt educational progress and restrict economic opportunities for hundreds of millions around the world.
In the world of healthcare, the pandemic’s effects are still reverberating today. Waiting lists for non-COVID-19 related diseases continue to rise, disruption to supply chains for healthcare equipment and medicines persists, and new variants of COVID-19 continue to appear.
More than ever, SDG 3: Good health and well-being, needs to be central to our thinking in building a more sustainable, equitable and resilient world. The good news is that the pandemic also showed how much governments, private enterprise and investment, academia and individuals can achieve by working together.
The incredible achievements – and failures – in response to the pandemic have highlighted the potential of the combination of technology with medicine – such as whole-genome sequencing and mRNA.
Genetic sequencing will drive a revolution in healthcare. The first genome sequenced took 13 years and cost approximately $1 billion. With advances in technology, it is now possible to sequence a genome in a few hours and costs less than $1,000. Continued progress should bring this down to $100 in the coming years, translating to a 10-million-fold reduction in cost.
There are more than 300 million rare disease patients globally and diagnosis often takes many years. Genomics offers potential for the diagnosis and deeper understanding of both rare and more common diseases, by leveraging AI and big data capabilities.
“Genomics offers potential for the diagnosis and deeper understanding of both rare and more common diseases, by leveraging AI and big data capabilities.”
It has long been recognised that early diagnosis of illnesses such as cancer can save lives. But even today, we can only screen for a small number of cancers. Liquid biopsy technology is helping to address this by leveraging big data analytics to provide earlier diagnostics for a greater number of cancer types – easier, faster and cheaper than existing alternatives. Investment opportunities exist across the value chain of diagnostics, from companies specialising in carrying out the testing, to those developing the technology required for improved diagnosis.
Moving to treatments, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies continue to invest in Research & Development to drive cutting-edge research into medicines to combat diseases such cancer, HIV, diabetes and, of course, COVID-19. The ability to measure and analyse big data from patient studies continues to be a huge tailwind for drug development. Treatments are increasingly more personalized, more targeted and less invasive, both increasing effectiveness and improving patients’ quality of life during treatment.
The miniaturisation of technology combined with the IoT (Internet of Things, where growing numbers of objects and devices are connected to the internet) is enabling remote patient monitoring and home care. For example, continuous glucose monitoring uses sensor technology to upload real-time 24/7 health information to mobile phones, leading to improved patient control, and improved medical and cost outcomes.
“The miniaturisation of technology is enabling remote patient monitoring and homecare therapies, enabling patients to remain in a familiar environment and with family during treatment.”
Technology, such as telehealth and remote patient monitoring, is also evolving to advance home care therapies, enabling patients to remain in a familiar environment and with family during treatment and recovery. These developments also have the potential to help overcome a lack of healthcare infrastructure, supporting a more equitable access to life-saving health services for the least developed regions.
Which brings us to perhaps the greatest challenge, one that the dark side of the COVID-19 response highlighted only too clearly. If we are to live up to the promise and opportunity of SDG 3, only a huge and concerted effort to increase the availability and affordability of healthcare globally will ensure good health for all.
To protect against future pandemics, we also need to turn our attention to the broader ‘social determinants of heath’ such as access to nutritious food, clean air, safe housing and decent education. Addressing all of these can make a transformative contribution to global health outcomes and the societal goal of achieving SDG 3.
Progress towards achieving the SDGs has been tentative at best over the past few years, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing setbacks in many areas. In the annual SDG Reckoning report, published by our parent company M&G plc, we assess the progress towards each of the 17 SDGs, both from a general perspective and through an impact investing lens.
Please note that, while we support the UN SDGs, we are not associated with the UN and our funds are not endorsed by them.
The value of investments will fluctuate, which will cause prices to fall as well as rise and you may not get back the original amount you invested. Past performance is not a guide to future performance.