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The Sustainable Development Goals Must Be Rooted In Reality, Not Rhetoric

2014 was a year of violence, heartbreak, and economic turmoil for much of the world. In my home country of Nigeria, Boko Haram threatens to engulf the northeast and endanger the lives of thousands of Nigerian men, women, and children. In our neighbouring countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Ebola has entrenched itself, destroying families and leaving thousands of children as orphans. In Hong Kong, students protested peacefully for a true democracy, even if it came at the cost of their health, safety, and education.

Nonetheless, as we turn to look beyond the horizon into 2015, a year that has been coined the 'Year of Sustainable Development'; I am filled with optimism. Despite the many challenges facing the world, I believe that by maintaining our focus in the final 365-day push to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and asking the right questions of ourselves, the international community will define Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that can truly set the world on 'The Road to Dignity.'

When the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set in 2000, they were highly ambitious, yet situated within our shared vision for the world. The MDGs focused the international development community, and united governments, civil society, and the private sector in a mission to achieve these shared goals within a feasible timeline.

The progress that has been made with the MDGs has been unprecedented. MDG 6, which seeks to combat HIV, AIDS, malaria and other diseases like polio, has seen great success with a fall from 300 000 polio cases per year to only 243 cases in 2014. In Nigeria, the progress that has been made on polio has been astounding and a key example of how the MDGs united communities, civil society, and governments to deliver change. With donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI spending $1 billion annually to eradicate polio in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, partnerships have been forged to expand access to the polio vaccine. Health officials in Nigeria worked with local Muslim clerics to promote the polio eradication campaign and address cultural misconceptions surrounding vaccination. As a result, Nigeria had only had 6 confirmed cases of polio in 2014.

Further to this, MDG 4 to reduce child mortality has resulted in a 49% decrease in preventable deaths of children under the age of 5 between 1990 and 2013. MDG 5, which is dedicated to improving maternal health, has seen a 45% reduction in global maternal mortality rates between 1990 and 2013, with progress achieved in almost all regions. Despite these outstanding achievements, maternal and infant mortality rates remain high in developing countries. Approximately 800 women across the world diedue to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 99% of these deaths occurring in developing countries. Although improvement has been made in the provision of health services like vaccinations for Nigerian children, Nigeria continues to account for 13% of all global deaths of children under the age of 5.

In 2015, we must dedicate our resources to accelerate progress and ensure that as much of these targets are met as possible. In 2015, we can further reduce the numbers of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth every day. In 2015, we can save more of the 18 000 children under 5 years old who die every day. In 2015, we canprevent millions of primary school-age children in the developing world from going to school hungry every day. With innovative programmes and new partnerships in 2015, I know that the Wellbeing Foundation Africa (WBFA) can make even more progress on the MDGs and collaboratively lay the foundations for success in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Over the course of 2015, the international community will be refining and defining the SDGs. The 17 target areas of the SDGs have been widely agreed upon, but it is now time to turn these target areas into a workable set of goals. It is crucial that these goals are concise and rooted in the fundamental needs and rights of humanity. Universal access to healthcare, clean water, food, a clean environment and education must be at the heart of the SDGs. Without these essential human elements; the international community will struggle to achieve sustainable development by 2030. Therefore, the Wellbeing Foundation Africa is committed to ensuring that the eventual set of SDGs is rooted in these basic human rights. In the words of Nelson Mandela, 'overcoming poverty is not a gesture of is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.'

As we embark on UN Secretary General's 'Road to Dignity' by 2030, we must remember these words at every step, and pledge to safeguard access to the central needs and rights for all of humanity.

Originally published on The Huffington Post:

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