The short title of SDG16 is “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions” highlighting the three separate but interconnected focuses of this goal. All of them have a strong impact on human health, and, partially, on animal and environmental health.
Peace is directly connected to health: war kills, maims, hurts, and displaces people and, in general, it severally affects their health and well-being. However, the goal pushes the concept of peace beyond the simple idea of the absence of war. In fact, the extended description talks of “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.” In this case, peace includes also the lack of violence between individuals and protection and security for the most vulnerable people, especially children.
This is where justice affects health as well. A working justice system protects everyone, especially, the weakest members of society. Justice also means enforcing laws that protect the health and well-being of all people: specific examples of the goal’s targets are controlling and curtailing illegal financial and arms flows, as well as combating organized crime. High levels of criminality, especially organized, negatively affect the well-being of people and could be detrimental to the creation of strong, supportive, and inclusive communities, an important driver of physical and mental well-being.
The target that bridges the second and third focuses of the goal, justice, and institutions, is the one aiming to reduce “corruption and bribery in all their forms.” Indeed, corruption and bribery are incompatible with promoting “effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Corruption could directly affect health by limiting access to healthcare services or increasing their cost and it is also associated with high levels of antimicrobial misuse, one of the main drivers of antimicrobial resistance (the development of “superbugs”). Lack of justice can also affect the strength of laws designed to protect the health of the environment (e.g., illegal logging or mining), animals (e.g., animal abuses, pet abandonment), and humans (e.g., unlicensed medical practitioners).
More generally, institutions are essential to secure the health and well-being of everyone, especially in modern societies where products are produced and traded globally and the specialized nature of most jobs and production processes prevents people from being able to judge the safety and quality of what they are buying and consuming. For example, government agencies control the quality of the food being sold in markets and stores to protect consumers’ health. Other agencies monitor and regulate the use of dangerous chemicals such as pesticides, paints, additives, etc. (think of asbestos, lead paint) as well as the quality of drinking water allowing people to have to worry less about where they live or what they buy. This also affects the health of animals and the environment. For example, some agencies monitor how livestock is raised, which protects national parks and biodiversity, monitor air, water, and soil pollution, and track and address epidemiological hazards for humans (e.g., Covid-19), livestock (e.g., avian flu), and wildlife (e.g., chronic wasting disease of deer).
When these institutions are corrupted, not accountable, or not inclusive, the health of the entire population or certain subgroups, usually minorities or vulnerable people, is at risk. Think of the politicking behind the choice of where to open new landfills or factories producing dangerous waste, the lobbying around regulations or overseeing in producing or transporting of certain goods, the incentives for private and public actors to cut costs, and so on.
Private institutions, as well as civil society, greatly contribute to the creation and maintenance of effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions. Their role and impact on health range from the less direct, such as pushing for accountability and transparency, to the extremely involved, such as charities providing health and social services or university and research centers providing objective and reliable inputs to policymakers.
Ultimately, living in a peaceful and inclusive environment with institutions effectively working to protect everyone’s health is fundamental to supporting the health and well-being of everyone, including animals and the environment, and the development of thriving communities and societies.
By: Dr. Luca Mantegazza | Research Program Coordinator