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Policy & Global Development

Is COVID-19 Threatening the Success of the Sustainable Development Goals in Spain?

Series | COVID-19 & response strategy # 23


This document is a part of a series of discussion notes addressing fundamental questions about the COVID-19 crisis and response strategies. These documents are based on the best scientific information available and may be updated as new information comes to light

Written by Gonzalo Fanjul, Leire Pajín and Oriana Ramírez (ISGlobal), and José Miguel Carrasco (APLICA Research and Knowledge Translation), this document addresses how the COVID-19 pandemic hits directly the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the international community for the health and well-being of all people, and offers some reflections on this subject based on the case of Spain.


When the international community established the roadmap for progress and sustainability between 2015 and 2030 with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the possibility of a pandemic was not part of the plan. The health, economic and social impacts of COVID-19 have been so devastating that any plan developed before the crisis will now have to be recalibrated. Paradoxically, the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda are closely linked to the prevention and control of an event like the current coronavirus crisis. This means that the logic of the Agenda has been reinforced for two reasons: first because of its capacity to reduce the risk of such a pandemic occurring; and second because of its value in terms of mounting an effective, equitable and sustainable response to the consequences of a pandemic.

Health is one of the essential components of a safe and dignified life and it is the sole focus of the third goal of the 2030 Agenda. The aim of SDG3 (health and well-being) is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all. SDG3 has 13 targets, which range from those inherited from the Millennium Development Goals—particularly related to child mortality, maternal health and the fight against the major infectious diseases associated with poverty—to ambitious new public health targets that include achieving universal health coverage, reducing the mortality and morbidity associated with road traffic accidents, smoking and alcohol abuse; and achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services and programmes.

Five years after its creation, the 2030 Agenda has been derailed by a pandemic that will have major repercussions on all the SDG3 targets and will also affect the economic, social, environmental and institutional factors that determine the health, well-being and development of the world's people. To understand the scope of COVID-19 and the effect it will have on the health targets, it is essential to understand the complex interactions between the SDGs. In this brief, we offer some reflections on this subject based on the case of Spain, starting with a description of SDG3 and its place in the Agenda.

The pandemic, a powerful reason to push harder with the 2030 Agenda

The 2030 Agenda is not a privilege that we allow ourselves when things are going well, but rather a perfectible but realistic road map to address the huge risks associated with an unsustainable, inequitable and unjust model of progress. The SDGs are boththe answer to many of our current challenges and a useful tool for preventing future problems. Moreover, the greater effort and investment we put into achieving the SDGs, the more resilient our societies will be and the more prepared we will be to respond to the challenges of our time.

The COVID-19 crisis clearly illustrates the value of the 2030 Agenda. Although it would have been hard to prevent the virus at its origin or to deal effectively with the initial waves of infection, the achievement of many of the SDG targets would have helped to prevent, mitigate and ultimately eliminate the risks of a pandemic like the one we are currently experiencing. In fact, the efforts of the international community to discover scientific solutions, protect the most vulnerable populations and countries, and build new models of governance is a de facto revindication of the logic that underpins the Agenda. In other words, the COVID-19 pandemic is a powerful reason to push harder with the 2030 Agenda rather than the converse.


At ISGlobal, in order to characterise this integrated approach encompassing the relationship between SDG3 and the other SDGs,we have coined the concept of SDG3+. The strength of the SDG3+ concept resides in its capacity to promote a Health in All Policies approach in all sectors and across all the interventions of government bodies, corporations and civil society actors. Spain now has the opportunity to incorporate this approach into the SDG strategy that will be drawn up over the coming months (which will inevitably have to take into account the post-COVID-19 context).

Specifically, ISGlobal proposes that inclusion of thefollowing components in that strategy be considered:

  • Strengthening public health and primary care systems and structures. Establishing the standards, resources, and transparency required by information systems to facilitate efficient coordination between health districts.
  • Taking the opportunity afforded by reconstruction and regeneration plans funded by public institutions (European and national) to implement this transformation.
  • Productive investment aimed at generating employment and strengthening social protection networks, with special attention to especially vulnerable groups (older adults, children and undocumented migrants, among others).
  • Set of measures to prevent or mitigate the impact of gender bias.
  • Making a substantial and effective contribution to the global response in order to protect the world´s poorest countries by developing and strengthening platforms for knowledge sharing and North-South and South-South cooperation.
  • Creation of a National Global Health Strategy.
  • A proposal for global health governance incorporating a pandemic prevention and response plan that takes into account all of the above components.