After achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2001-2015 successfully, the United Nations Organisation, with the objective of “leaving no one behind”, led its member states to come together with more effective and forceful clauses to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the period 2015-2030. The agenda for SSGs was passed by member states at the United Nations General Assembly in the year of 2015 and came into effect in January 2016, and has 17 global issues, which need to be followed by all in the next 15 years, starting 2015. India is a signatory country of the SDGs and has unfailingly reiterated its promise towards the 17 goals. The targets of the SDGs are consistent with India’s own defined goals. India has witnessed significant progress towards the SDGs till now and the large youth population in the country would be vital in achieving the 2030 agenda for SDGs. According to India’s National Youth Policy 2014, youth which represents the age group of 15-29 years, make up over 27.5 per cent of the total population and contributes to around 34 per cent of India’s Gross National Income (GNI). A fact to be taken into account, though, is that 55 per cent of youth in India are not adequately informed of the SDGs.
The 2030 SDGs Agenda aims to amalgamate the three aspects of sustainable development i. e. economic, social and environmental. In conformity with the 2015-2030 agenda for sustainable development, the government of India adopted the National Health Policy (NHP) in the year of 2017 to boost and revitalise the health sector in the country. The UN has been assisting India in reaching the goals of NHP.
To advance the child and adolescent health, the NHP 2017 “seeks to address the social determinants through developmental action in all sectors”. It emphasises that “research on social determinants of health” will be improvised and combined with “neglected health issues such as disability and transgender health”; at the same time, giving importance to Panchayati Raj institutions “to play an enhanced role at different levels for health governance, including the social determinants of health.” Since 2017 the aim of government is to achieve “Health for All”, which is an elementary objective of India’s NHP. This entails the need to create a large trained pool of doctors, nurses and health workers through an expansion of medical colleges and training institutes. In this aspect, increasing importance has also been given to Ayurveda.
The success of NHP-2017 and targets of health-specific SDGs depend upon the participation of young people in decision-making and implementation. Unfortunately, NHP-2017 does not have any clarity about the engagement of youth in achieving the NHP goals. NHP-2017 also fails to raise the prominent aims of the earlier adopted and implemented the National Youth Policy (NYP) 2014, which clearly stated that youth must be educated about nutrition choices and leading a healthy lifestyle and stressed on making them aware of the benefits of preventive healthcare. The NYP 2014 further emphasised on making the youth aware of the detrimental effects of drugs/substance abuse and keeping the youth alert about the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and TB, which happens due to lack of awareness, inadequate information and poor access to preventive care. The inclusion of general health, reproductive health, and nutrition in the syllabus of all educational institutions will play a vital role in creating awareness at an early stage in overcoming health related problems. The NHP-2017 nowhere specifically addresses the needs of youth although it talks about adolescents concerning different dimensions that pertain to this particular age group.
Young people have been accorded a central place by the United Nations in achieving the 2030 Agenda for SDGs as they play a vital role by expressing original views and formulating innovative ideas on several issues related to SDGs. Their participation in achieving SDGs is leading societies to bring in multi-dimensional change at the personal to social level and the national to the global level. Governments, policy makers and NGOs need to recognise youth as front runners in implementing and bringing success to SDG’s by providing them with the required training and support that will determine their future course of action towards society. Keeping this in mind, the Indian government is ensuring the role of youth in all its programmes and policies related to the 2030 Agenda so that they can play a dynamic role in ensuring the success of SDGs. After looking at the outcome of the MDGs, it is felt that it becomes all the more necessary that youth should be promoted and encouraged to take the lead in ensuring the success the SDGs to bring change in society, both locally and globally. Their role can be enhanced in many ways, through participation in awareness programmes and campaigns, in drafting and making policies; in evaluating, researching and implementing India’s plans on SDGs’ and also by enhancing their knowledge and skills through training and education on key health issues.
The success of SDG’s and NHP-2017 in India depends upon the youth’s participation in implementing the health agenda from national to the local level in society. Specifically, countries like India, with more than a 27 per cent youth population, should rely on youth for a more sustainable and developed society.
*** The author is a Postdoctoral Fellow, International Institute for Global Health, United Nations University, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ***