From SDGs to SWGs ~Deciphering the Unwritten Rule of “Health”~

July 04, 2024

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced at its General Assembly that it will extend the deadline for consultations toward a global agreement on a “pandemic treaty” that sets out the prevention and countermeasures against infectious disease pandemics, and that it will be finalized by 2025 at the latest.

WHO member states have been negotiating for two years to reach an agreement to strengthen cooperation before and during the pandemic, learning from the mistakes made during the pandemic. The original plan was to reach an agreement in May, but issues such as vaccine allocation and preparedness did not bridge the gap between rich and poor countries, leading to the decision to extend the talks by one year.

< figure: WHO Director-General Tedros>

(Reference:Mainichi Shimbun

“This historic decision taken today demonstrates the common desire of Member States to protect their citizens and the people of the world from the shared risks of public health emergencies and future pandemics,” Tedros said.

Why is it that the common idea that people around the world will be healthy is not unified? In order to get hints on this question, this paper will decipher the unwritten rule of “health,” which is also mentioned in the third goal of the SDGs, from the historical background, and discuss the points that are required in future discussions.

The concept of “health” itself is used as a matter of course in modern times, but many previous studies have been conducted and various approaches have been made to measure health. A typical researcher is Emile Duelkeme [Berkman, 00]. Duelkem showed the correlation between social pathology and social dynamics, and developed scholarship. Subsequently, in the 1950s, scholars of the British humanities began to investigate the state of health in social structures as social network theory, and in the 1980s, social connections were studied in a way that measured “health.”

This historical lineage has been inherited by the third goal of the SDGs. In the third goal of the SDGs adopted in 2015, SDG 3 “Good health and well-being” was adopted, and the WHO Charter defines “health” in the preamble as follows (reference).

“Health does not mean that you are not sick or weak, but that you are in a state of physical, mental, and social fulfillment.”

It should be noted here that, based on the academic genealogy mentioned above, it describes the right of access to health that leads to social health, not just health based on physical conditions. At the root of the third goal is the idea of universal health coverage, which means that “all people have access to appropriate health promotion, prevention, treatment, and functional recovery services at an affordable cost,” and that all people can enjoy health services without financial hardship (Reference).

< Figure: Universal Health Coverage Diagram>

(Reference: Created by the author based on the JICA website)

In order to measure such health conditions, there is a well-known “well-being” in modern times. It can be said that the state of health in the modern age is for an individual to be “well + being” after gaining social access.

Against this backdrop, discussions on the framework of the SDGs beyond the goals by 2030 are becoming more and more active. It is noteworthy that there is a movement to make well-being the next common international goal. This movement based on well-being can be said to be the direction of the discussion that makes use of the reflection of the SDGs. This is because, with the progress of the SDGs lagging far behind and the lack of unity of will among countries, I believe that it is necessary to redefine the underlying “happiness” and “growth.”

< figure: Club of Rome in 1972>

(Reference: DW)

More than 50 years have passed since the Club of Rome published “The Limits to Growth” in 1972.  For people at the time, “growth” focused on resources and the finite nature of the planet, and was summarized by an international team led by Dennis Meadows of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In doing so, he modeled the economy and population growth, and advocated sustainable growth in relation to the supply of finite resources. On the other hand, with regard to environmental policy, as seen at the 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the gap between developed and developing countries has not been bridged, and demonstrations by citizens have occurred in Europe (EU).

For this reason, in order to truly “no one left behind,” it is necessary to reconsider the concept of “growth” for people when discussing the common global goals after the SDGs. This is the key to shaping the fate of humanity, and the clue to this is found in the third goal of the SDGs.

Corporate Planning Group Shugo Iwasaki


[Berkman, 00] Berkman, Lisa F., et al. “From social integration to health: Durkheim in the new millennium.” Social science & medicine 51.6 (2000): 843-857.

[Loreau, 23] Henderson, Kirsten, and Michel Loreau. “A model of Sustainable Development Goals: Challenges and opportunities in promoting human well-being and environmental sustainability.” Ecological Modelling 475 (2023): 110164.

[Qureshi, 23] Bashir, Ifra, and Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi. “A systematic literature review on personal financial well-being: The link to key Sustainable Development Goals 2030.” FIIB Business Review 12.1 (2023): 31-48.