On February 4, 2020, the World Health Organization released its first Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for the novel coronavirus. The document details elaborate guidelines for how governments should prepare domestically and internationally, recommending containment strategies and encouraging international cooperation. In the context of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this publication—and the advent of pandemic response and recovery strategies overall—appear to be strong institutional and structural accelerators for SDG 3, ensuring good health and well-being for all. The Goal, however, appeals not just for protection against COVID-19, but good health in the face of many other health crises. The necessary fixation on COVID-19, while bolstering certain SDG initiatives, has deprived other sectors. To bring sustainable endeavors back on course, the SDGs may prove to be a sufficient guiding framework for rebuilding post-pandemic.

Catalysts for Adaptability in Crisis

The steady struggle to actualize the Sustainable Development Goals has suffered significant derailment from the coronavirus pandemic in the last three years, interrupting immunization programs, skyrocketing malnutrition and the spread of disease, stemming educational reform and other initiatives.

Even in the wake of an unprecedented vaccine response, the “zero-dose” population became a new marker of inequality in vaccine distribution for COVID-19—pushing priorities further away from the broader spectrum of SDGs, in the efforts to stabilize global health. However, SDGs prove to be a guiding framework for adaptive responses to a global crisis, ones which demand flexibility and resourcefulness. To that end, one 2022 study suggests that NGOs, amid other kinds of institutions, may be particularly inclined to succeed.

NGOs reportedly suffered hefty operational setbacks: a drop in health-seeking behavior from people fearing infection at healthcare facilities, increased operational costs due to PPE, failure to administer programs during lockdowns, transitions to virtual operations reducing capacity, and even infections and death among NGO personnel, to name a few. Methods of direct disease intervention—tangible deliveries of products and services in target regions, health and frontline workers, and other in-person efforts to carry out the objectives of NGOs—were severely disrupted. Despite this, the study’s literature proposes that NGOs are primed for reflexive adaptability, leading to pivotal response programs that ensured their survival.

Read the full article about how NGOs evolved by Aneesh Chaterjee at Global Washington.