UKZN Professor Contributes to International Sustainable Development Goals StudyGeneral

Professor Benn Sartorius.Professor Benn Sartorius.

Epidemiologist in UKZN’s College of Health Sciences and Global Burden of Disease (GBD) collaborator, Professor Benn Sartorius, has contributed to a large scale study with 188 nations that provides a better understanding of progress made by countries in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).  

Recent findings of the study, published in the prestigious journal The Lancet revealed that countries making little progress in reaching the goals were mainly those in Africa. 

The study, titled: “Measuring the Health-Related Sustainable Development Goals in 188 Countries: a Baseline Analysis from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015”, analysed each country’s progress towards achieving health-related SDG targets by creating an overall SDG Index score. Countries were then ranked by their scores to show which nations are closest to achieving the targets. A nation’s SDG index score is based on a scale of zero to 100 with 100 indicating the most progress made. 

Iceland tops the list with a score of 85 while the lowest-scoring nation at 20 is the Central African Republic. The United States has a score of 75, just behind Slovenia, Greece, and Japan, all at 76.  South Africa scored 46 and ranked 134 out of the 188 countries.

Sartorius said significant strides made in health included expanded health coverage, greater access to family planning, and fewer deaths of newborns and children under the age of 5. However, childhood obesity, alcohol consumption, and death caused by violence continued to be significant hurdles many nations were facing as the world reached the end of the first year of the 15-year goals. 

Said Sartorius: ‘This important study suggests that large health gains are being achieved. However, policy makers and other stakeholders need to keep their foot on the gas so to speak to ensure that the ambitious 2030 SDG targets are attained. In some low income settings - especially sub-Saharan Africa - current trajectories are lagging behind for certain key indicators and these settings need to up the ante if they are to successfully attain these ambitious goals.’ 

Kenya’s SDG Index score increased between 2000 and 2015, from 33 to 40. The prevalence of childhood stunting there dropped as a percentage of the population from 39% in 2000 to 26% in 2015. One potential driver of the decrease in stunting in Kenya is the concurrent increase in access to health services. In 2015, 70% of Kenyans who needed an essential health intervention received it, in contrast to just 32% in 2000. 

‘We have concrete examples of countries making important progress on a range of health-related SDG indicators,’ said Professor of Global Health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, and lead author of study, Dr Stephen S. Lim. ‘We now need to look to those countries that have seen strong progress to find out what they are doing right and how it can be applied more broadly.’ 

The GBD is the largest and most comprehensive epidemiological effort to quantify health loss across places and over time. The GBD enterprise – now consisting of more than 1 800 researchers and policymakers in nearly 130 nations and territories – is co-ordinated by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. 

Sartorius holds a PhD in public health, a two-year applied field epidemiology fellowship - European Programme for Intervention Epidemiology Training [EPIET]) - and an MSc in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. He has wide experience with applied public health research and his current interests focus on non-communicable disease epidemiology, specifically cancer epidemiology research.

MaryAnn Francis