Think tanks contributing towards the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

24 May 2019
SERIES Think tanks contributing towards the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 8 items

In September 2015, 194 countries signed 17 universal Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address well-being of people. The SDG mantra of “leaving no one behind” applies resoundingly to health, in a world in which countries continue to be challenged with pervasive health inequities. The United Nations (UN) is advocating for health to be “a precondition for and an outcome and indicator of […] sustainable development.” This concept conveys the inter-sectoral nature of the SDGs. SDG Goal 3, for example, is committed to ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all. In addition, there are health-related indicators included across 10 of the other 16 goals. Across the 11 SDGs, there are 28 health-related targets with a total of 47 health-related indicators.

For stakeholders in global health, the SDGs signal a critical shift in approach: from vertical and discrete as per the Millennium Development Goals, to comprehensive and interwoven. This paves the way for new partnerships, policies, programs, and resource distribution strategies that promote health-enabling environments. In this light, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) together with the Graduate Institute, Geneva, supported, a new global network THINK_SDGs that facilitates cross-regional knowledge sharing and collaboration by connecting think tanks and policy research institutions with ongoing global SDG goals and dialogues.

In addition, IDRC supported several regional consultations in 2016 and 2017 to explore the role of think tanks and other stakeholders such as policy research institutions in the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs. The discussions were diverse, but participants from different regions converged around a few key and common areas. There was a strong sense that there is a need of SDG processes to be guided by evidence and quality data. Also, the need of engaging citizens to solve health challenges was prominent. Furthermore, the consultations highlighted that think tank and health policy institutions are key players in the knowledge-policy interface for health, largely through their high quality, policy relevant research and engagement; their ability to carry out the monitoring and tracking of progress around policy implementation; and as places for policy dialogue and the bridging between national and global efforts relating to the SDGs.

Think tanks are often best placed to know how to influence policy processes in their local contexts. For example, Think Tank Initiative supported Ethiopian Economic Association (EEA), conducted a nation-wide survey on household use of health services and related spending patterns in Ethiopia. Using the survey results, EEA provided policy recommendations to key government stakeholders, which then contributed to revisions in the national health care financing strategy and community-based health insurance scheme, as well as the formulation of a national strategic action plan for the prevention and control of communicable diseases. This is one example, but it is not always straightforward where think tanks fit in the health puzzle. Also, their roles differ from one context to another. When we’re are talking about something as large and ambitious as the SDGs, a process that requires all hands-on deck, we can’t just plug think tanks into the equation and say that they might fix all the problems.

Following the consultations, IDRC supported a series of regional working groups that conducted scoping studies on SDG implementation in South Asia, East Africa, Latin America, and West Africa. Through national and regional scoping studies, they identified the actors who are implementing the health-related goals, the integration of the SDG goals into national development plans, and how SDG is being manifested in different contexts with the help of different stakeholders.

This blog series will share perspectives and experiences of the researchers involved in these scoping studies on how the SDGs are rolling in their context. There are several difficult questions for think tanks and institutions such as:

  • Improving health with an intersectoral approach
  • Health equity in the SDG era
  • Does SDG ensure happiness and what are the challenges
  • How are the SDGs decentralized and being implemented at a local level
  • Importance of processes that lead to SDG outcomes

The researchers in South Asia are trying to answer a few of these questions through this blog series.