This week saw the UK Government publish its first review taking stock of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It’s just one in a series of reports to be published this summer that shine a light on how Scotland is performing in its efforts to realise the ambition of the SDGs; the closest the world has come to a strategy to eradicate poverty, tackle inequalities and combat climate change. 

HIV is directly aligned with the outcome of the third goal of ensuring healthy lives and promoting the well-being of all by 2030, one of 17 universally adopted goals that offer a vision of the world that I hope people in Scotland share. The target of eradicating and reducing HIV infections at home and overseas is part of the SDGs, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s the first you’ve heard of them.

The UK has one of the lowest rates of public awareness of the Goals, and whilst an understandable response might be, ‘why does this matter?’, our best hope of tackling societies biggest challenges is through broadening discussion and action in response to issues such as HIV; these 17 inseparable Sustainable Development Goals give us a mandate to do just that.

In Scotland, the National Performance Framework is our way to localise and implement the SDGs. The NPF has a focus on tackling inequalities so that no one in Scotland is left behind as we work together to achieve the SDGs. The embedding of the SDGs in Scotland’s wellbeing framework is one step forward in Scotland’s commitment to this global agenda.

Whether you focus on Scotland’s 11 National Outcomes or the 17 SDGs, no single target can be achieved in isolation; they require a cross-cutting and cross-sector approach where challenges like HIV are not only discussed in terms of health but in relation to poverty, hunger, education, inequalities and climate change. There must also be coherence between our actions at home and overseas. 

It’s why I found it telling that HIV is only mentioned in Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being of the UK’s National Review. That’s where the target and indicator for monitoring the reduction of HIV progress sits, but the presentation of HIV in this manner does little to leverage the intersections with the SDGs in the way it could or should.

Poverty can increase vulnerability to HIV. The lack of nutritional support can diminish health outcomes for those living with HIV. Stigma and discrimination will remain without enhanced education that tackles misinformation. The uptake of services will not increase to the level required without a human rights-based approach.

Those living in towns and cities without vital health services will be left behind. Unaffordability of medication will continue to see the poorest in society unable to prevent or mitigate the impact of HIV. And, as climate change works to drive food and water shortages, poverty and man-made disasters, the profound links between the environment and HIV will hit harder.

These examples highlight that an approach to HIV cannot be limited to one based solely on a health response and, without a clear and coherent global strategy in place that supports the potential of each and every one of us to live good lives, we have an up-hill battle on our hands; it’s why the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals is so important and has so much potential.

That potential can only be realised if the right culture exists, and the spirit of partnership and solidarity must be present if our desired direction and ambition for Scotland, the UK and the world are to be achieved. This applies not only to our efforts on HIV but to every one of the challenges we face in society.

Let’s use the mandate of the SDGs and Scotland’s National Outcomes to drive this culture, and where better to demonstrate success than in our collective efforts around HIV.  

By Paul Bradley
Coordinator, SDG Network Scotland
Policy and Campaigns, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations