28 October 2015

Public Health in the post-2015 Development Agenda Series: How Public Health Institutions can contribute to the post-2015 Development Agenda

This is the fourth article of the UNAI series “Public health in the post-2015 development agenda”. Schools and departments of public health at UNAI member institutions were asked to submit articles highlighting research and work relating to the proposed SDGs and to showcase the importance of public health in the post-2015 development agenda. Please note that the articles are for discussion, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.

Although the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were finalized in September 2015, public health institutions have already embraced the values the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent through their work to improve population health, and thus, improve human development. This article highlights the work of the University of São Paulo and provides an example to how public health institutions can contribute to the post-2015 development agenda.  

Since its beginning in 1918, the School of Public Health of the University of São Paulo has been doing research on issues related to the proposed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Recently, research actions have been more focused on the goals, mainly on those related to public health. The main principles behind these actions have been the social determinants of health, equity and global justice and the concept that health contributes to general wellbeing. The first proposed SDG is to eliminate poverty in all its forms, as it improves working conditions and consequently leads income generation. Thus, the first goal has an indirect contribution to most of the research done in the School of Public Health. 

The second proposed SDG is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture; the Department of Nutrition has a leading role in research on public health nutrition by historically evaluating nutritional conditions of the Brazilian population and developing a Health and Nutrition Surveillance research tool and lab: the Labtel. The purpose of this research is to detect the changes in health throughout the country by conducting annual telephone interviews of a large sample of the Brazilian population. Research has identified a large reduction in malnutrition, increase in over-weight and obesity, and additional nutritional-related diseases. More recently, in 2014, there was a leading and substantial contribution of research done by our school to the making of the new Brazilian Food Guide. The Brazilian Food Guide has been praised for its innovative approach as it integrates environmental and social factors to food security. There is also research being done in the use of our biodiversity for more sustainable agriculture and food production.  

The third proposed SDG is to ensure health and well-being for all age groups. At the School of Public Health of the University of São Paulo many research projects from the Epidemiology and the Maternal and Child Health Departments have focused on a life cycles approach, with very strong emphasis in birth, maternal health, youth health and aging. 

Graduate students and researchers of the Environmental Health Department at the School of Public Health have participated in hundreds of research projects to address various proposed SDGs including: SDG 6 which addresses water and sanitation for all; SDG 11 which focuses on building more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities; SDG 12 to achieve sustainable consumption and production patterns; SDG 13 to combat climate change and its impacts; SDG 14 to conserve oceans and seas; and SDG 15 to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of ecosystems and forests. The school plays a leading role in providing data and human resources for government, industry and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), for backing policies and programs in the field of environmental protection and sustainable use of resources. The association between environmental factors and health outcomes is a strong component of these investigations. 

Regarding proposed SDGs 10 and 17 that aim to reduce inequities between and within countries and to strengthen global partnerships for sustainable development, in 2013 the School of Public Health started a new PhD Program in Global Health and Sustainability. The program has these two goals in its concept and although the research projects of its students and supervisors are diverse, all encompass these goals as the basis of their work.   

As we anticipate the adoption of the SDGs in September 2015, one must remember that their acceptance is not the end, but the beginning of a renewed global effort to ensure a sustainable future, an international endeavour in which public health institutions will play a significant role.  

Dr. Helena Ribeiro is a Professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the University of São Paulo. She completed her Bachelor's of Geography at Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo (1972), her Master's of Geography from University of California Berkeley (1981) and Doctorate of Physical Geography from Universidade de São Paulo (1988). Her research in Geosciences focuses on Geographical Climatology applied to the following areas: environmental health, urban health, medical geography, air pollution, climate changes and environmental education. Prior to joining the University of Sao Paulo she was a professor at Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo and a former environmental advisor to the Mayor of São Paulo.  She also served as a member of the Executive Committee of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). This public health discussion series was created and curated by UN Academic Impact Intern Zinnia Batliwalla.