The COVID-19 pandemic will further derail the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next five years without concerted action, international scientists warn.
Adopted by the United Nations in September 2015, the SDGs call on governments and organizations to achieve goals such as ending poverty, eradicating hunger and ensuring everyone has access to clean, affordable energy by 2030.
However, the economic impact of COVID-19 on the SDGs was clear in 2020, when at least 255 million full-time jobs were lost, according to the report, sparking a hunger crisis, particularly in the Global South Unprecedented and unfinished: COVID-19 and its implications for national and global politics Published by the International Science Council (ISC).
“As a society, we will not respond to COVID-19 unless we understand that the pandemic is impacting every aspect of our lives,” said Mathieu Denis, Acting Executive Director and Director of Science at the ISC, and co-author of the report.
According to the United Nations’ most recently published 2019 SDG Scorecard Report, the Global Sustainable Development Report, the SDGs were already far off course before the pandemic hit.
The report cites lost education as one of the worst impacts of the pandemic and warns its impact could be felt by the end of the century.
Disruption to schools and universities caused by COVID-19 lockdowns could result in lifetime lost income for an entire generation costing $17 trillion, the report warns.
Widespread lockdowns have also led to an increase in gender-based violence, according to the analysis, while maternal deaths have risen due to overwhelmed health facilities.
It says COVID-19 could go largely uncontrolled at worst, with “serious relapses” in some parts of the world.
According to the analysis, compiled by a panel of 20 experts in fields including public health, virology, economics, behavioral sciences, ethics and sociology, low-income countries will also face rising food insecurity and mental health.
It also underscores the lack of access to vaccines in Africa, where only about 16 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But Peter Ofware, Kenya country director at global health and human rights organization HealthRight International, says the fallout from COVID-19 for some African countries could be even worse than the report predicts.
“Most economies in sub-Saharan Africa are in shambles due to COVID-19, these countries will take decades to recover, if ever,” Ofware said SciDev.Net.
“Already critical sectors such as healthcare continue to suffer as resources are diverted elsewhere to try to rebuild these countries’ economies, with devastating health consequences, including maternal and child health.”
He says a resurgence in the pandemic and a return to containment measures, including lockdowns, could irreversibly damage low- and middle-income economies.
“As health stakeholders, we are committed to global vaccine equity and access to affordable antiretroviral medicines [way] moving forward in containing COVID-19,” he added.
To avoid the worst effects of the pandemic over the next five years, the report authors call for coordinated, long-term strategies.
“If we’re going to respond to a pandemic, we can’t have a patchwork of different responses, some good, some not so good,” said Salim Abdool Karim, ISC vice chair and co-author of the report SciDev.Net.
“The UN should form a single body of scientists advising the UN, bringing together skills from the health, labor, agriculture and education sectors to provide global guidance on what we need to do to be cohesive.”
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Global Desk.