Mujaheed Shaikh from the Hertie School of Governance and a health economist by training, discusses the broad field of Sustainable Development Goals with regard to the private sector. He raises the question whether one needs the private sector at all: How and to what degree is the private sector engaged with the SDGs? And how does the private sector contribute to the intertwined biology-environment-lifestyle-complex for health, which is brought to discussion within this symposium on "Sustainable Development Goals: Good Health for All"?
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Health is what people are most concerned about, both on a personal level, as well as across society. While only the third SDG explicitly demands “good health and well-being for all people: ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”, health is a recurring theme through all 17 SDGs: from the first SDG “no poverty” and second SDG “no hunger” all the way to SDG16 “peace, justice and strong institutions” and SDG17 “partnerships for the goals”. Thus, SDG3 with its focus on health connects all SDGs with each other. Indeed, health serves as an excellent entry point for understanding the SDGs in their complexity, as it is of utmost importance for both the individual and society as a whole.
Unifying theories and holistic concepts have the charm of reducing complexity. One of the most revolutionary unifying theories is Darwin’s hypothesis on natural selection and the origin of species. Over the last years, a raft of new methods has helped turning this hypothesis into an exact science. Thus, insights gained by genomics, genetics, and the molecular analysis of the evolution of plants, animals, and man lead to a new science of life. It has been termed “Evolutionary Medicine” and “Evolutionary Global Health” and provides a novel perception on human biology: It explains why we are the way we are, why people are frail and why we get sick. Most importantly, it helps us comprehending how to better preserve health – as opposed to merely focusing on the treatment of diseases.
Recent years have seen tremendous advances in our understanding of biological processes. We owe this progress in great part to developments in genetic techniques, steady improvements in imaging technology, and new molecular tools. Ultimately, our better understanding of the evolution of life on earth on genomic and molecular levels has taken us to a point where we have to integrate the complex interactions between our biology, the environment, as well as lifestyle and our behavior. This, however, produces a scientific rationale for a holistic approach to health and disease.For example, it is the misalignment between our evolutionary ‘old’ biology and our modern, fast-changing, man-made environment (e.g. urbanization and nutrition with processed food products) that helps to explain the emergence of civilization diseases.
Thus, on the one hand our deeper insights into human biology resulted in a much better grasp of health and disease through new biomarkers, improved prediction and prevention, systemic medicine, network medicine, precision medicine, one health, and global health. On the other hand, medical staff now faces ever-increasing pressure, sprawling costs and accelerated specialization, thereby losing sight of the patient as a whole. What we need today is a holistic view on ourselves that considers together the three decisive factors for each individual’s well-being: biology (genetic disposition, cellular mechanisms…), environment (economy, culture, education, climate...), and personal lifestyle and behaviour (nutrition, exercise…).