The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2015, covering a wide range of sustainable development issues, such as improving health, ending poverty, and combating climate change. At their core, they provide a global blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet.
As one of Sigma’s UN representatives, I have been fortunate enough to be front and center for many UN events, programs, and activities. Without this exposure, though, I’d have a lot of questions about the SDGs, like why do they matter, and how do we even begin to achieve these goals? As nurse leaders, we inherently play a significant role in achieving SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages. But we also impact the delivery of others—there is a critical link between social and physical environments and individual and population health. Nurses, as primary providers of healthcare and advocates, are essential to the achievement of the SDGs.
Dubbed ‘the decade of delivery,’ the century’s turn has been accompanied by a call for action to advance the agenda and meet the SDGs on time. We need people to take action globally and locally to generate an unstoppable momentum to deliver these goals by 2030. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been imperiling toward SDGs' progress, it has also highlighted how urgent and necessary it is to achieve these goals.
The aim of the SDGs is to make progress on significant challenges faced in our world today, but we can only reach these goals with the help of people around the world—people like you. Small steps add up to significant progress if many people are involved. Even though you might not even realize it, you contribute to the SDGs’ success and improve people’s lives across the globe every day. But there is more work to be done.
We can make vital contributions toward achieving the SDGs across all settings because they can be easily translated into local action. Here are some easy individual and chapter recommendations for putting SDGs 2 (zero hunger, improved nutrition), 4 (quality education), and 10 (reduced inequalities) into action. There is also this great resource of ideas that the Sigma’s UN youth representatives and liaisons created for all 17 SDGs.
Goal 2 seeks sustainable solutions to end hunger, achieve food security, and improve nutrition. Unfortunately, 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food. Chapters can volunteer at a local food bank that feeds food-insecure families in your community, including the elderly populations, those with disabilities, and homeless people. Another easy way is to incorporate effective nutrition screening in your practice. Once you identify a patient in need of nutritional intervention, you can connect them to programs and services that increase food security and reduce hunger through access to affordable, healthy food and nutrition education.
Goal 4 stresses the importance of providing equitable access to education and lifelong learning opportunities for all. The level of educational attainment is an important social determinant of health. It is a strong predictor of health and quality of life; it is a driver of opportunity. Also, education is the key that will allow many other SDGs to be achieved. Unfortunately, there are many barriers to accessing education, including financial, geographic, sociocultural, and availability of services, leading to large health inequalities and poor health. Chapters and individuals can volunteer with organizations that help to improve education and health outcomes by providing health education to students directly in their schools. Try to find a program that helps low-income or racial and ethnic minority populations. This is a great way to promote health equity and improve population health.
Goal 10 calls for reducing inequalities. The circumstances into which we are born dramatically affect how we develop and grow. Inequalities affect life expectancy as well as quality of life. Unfortunately, a person’s characteristics and circumstances—including race and ethnicity, gender, age, income, disability, immigration status, religious beliefs, or language proficiency—predict their health outcomes. Nurses can reduce inequality by tackling social determinants of health and targeting vulnerable populations to improve health outcomes and access to services. Chapters can volunteer at community health fairs that target prevention and education among vulnerable people. You can personally support legislation that eliminates discriminatory barriers to health and promotes health equity in communities.
One of my most favorite quotes is this one from American anthropologist Margaret Mead, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." If there were ever two words to describe nurses, I’d pick thoughtful and committed. And I believe in our power to change the world.
Dania Itani Mousa, BSN, RN, is a nurse at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach, California, USA and a DNP-FNP candidate at Loma Linda University. In addition to being a Sigma UN Youth Representative, she is a member of Iota Eta Chapter at California State University.