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How nurses can help achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

Become a ‘global citizen’ and have an impact on health at home and abroad

By Deborah Baiden
August 29, 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the unequal impact on health outcomes of marginalized populations.

Reflecting on the COVID-19 pandemic made me realize how quickly a health problem can become global in scope. If there is anything I’ve learned from pandemics, it is that health issues — and strategies to deal with them — can have global ripple effects.

Courtesy of Deborah Baiden
Deborah Baiden migrated to Canada from Ghana, West Africa. She considers herself a “global citizen” with “a unique perspective into how we can think about global health.”

I migrated to Canada from Ghana, West Africa. I consider myself a “global citizen,” meaning I have an enhanced awareness of the diversity of the world we live in and the interconnectedness of it all. Not only am I a global citizen, but I’m also a nurse who has worked in a lower-middle income country and is currently living in Canada, a high-income country. I therefore believe I have a unique perspective into how we can think about global health.

In 2015, all United Nations member countries ratified the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with the shared aim of meeting the agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the year 2030 (United Nations, n.d.). The SDGs are designed to achieve equitable results between countries and provide a global objective of improving health outcomes and the quality of life for all.

I am writing on three of these SDGs in recognition of the varied roles of nurses in promoting good health and well-being, reducing inequality and inequity, and partnering with patients and their families, communities, multidisciplinary teams, and organizations. Many nurses around the globe, including Canada, should be proud of the work they have already done toward achieving the SDGs. As I discuss below, even more can be accomplished.

Application of the Sustainable Development Goals in nursing

Goal 3 : Good health and well-being

The World Health Organization defines health as “not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.” Health, rather, is a continuum. Unfortunately, along that continuum, marginalized populations continue to move toward increased morbidity and mortality.

SDG 3 is focused on ensuring that everyone has good health and well-being. Nurses and nursing students all over the world have contributed to attaining this goal.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has highlighted the unequal impact on health outcomes of marginalized populations. Health is political; hence it’s essential that nurses learn skills such as critical thinking, advocacy, and reflection so they can engage in transformative action. The socio-political knowledge that nurses have gained by serving marginalized patients helps ensure these skills can be used effectively.

Much work remains to promote good health and well-being. For instance, in research, nurse scientists can consider research that is inclusive. For populations underrepresented in research, culturally appropriate recruitment strategies could be developed.

The pandemic has also had an impact on the health and well-being of nurses. The health-care system needs to support nurses and other health-care professionals by enacting policies that support them through, for example, adequate staffing levels and equitable employment conditions. Otherwise, how can nurses support the achievement of the SDGs as global citizens when their own health and well-being are left behind?

Goal 10 : Reduced inequalities

SDG 10 aims to decrease inequalities within and between countries. Nurses have witnessed many such inequalities, particularly during the pandemic.

Globally, many nurses and other health-care professionals addressed these inequalities head-on. Nurses have travelled to areas that were short-staffed and had poor resources, even across international borders, to address the inequalities that were laid bare by the pandemic.

In Canada, Black and Indigenous people, and people of colour continue to experience inequalities from systemic racism. Calling out racism and treating everyone like we, as individuals, want to be treated (Shellian, 2020; Weisbeck, 2020) are fundamental to addressing racism. As nurses, it is important that we leverage our global presence to do even more to achieve this SDG.

In Canada, SDG 10 can perhaps be best applied in nursing education through embedding cultural competency and anti-racist and decolonial pedagogies in curricula and clinical resources. This could help new nurses gain the skills and competencies needed to become champions of reducing inequalities. Additionally, nursing leadership opportunities that promote diverse candidates could help give students and nurses a more global worldview.

Goal 17 : Strong global partnerships

SDG 17 seeks to reinforce global partnerships as a strategy to attain sustainable development. Global partnerships have been evident since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — for example, the sharing of ideas, vaccines, and human resources.

Nurses can create and build on partnerships at the global level, including international collaborations with nurse researchers in Global South (or “developing”) countries. Sharing knowledge and research could advance these countries’ ability to strengthen their own nursing and health-care capacity.

Marginalized populations continue to move toward increased morbidity and mortality.

In Canada, nurses and other health-care professionals have partnered with community centres, faith-based organizations, and the media in setting up vaccination clinics, creating awareness, testing, and advocating for vaccine equity. In doing so, they collaborated with gatekeepers and leaders in many racialized communities. Such collaborations foster increased trust in the health-care system and help improve access to testing and vaccines.

To better achieve SDG 17, nursing faculties can partner to support one another. Nurses in educational settings can collaborate to strengthen their research, with a focus on community empowerment strategies. Doing so would not only help address current inequalities, it would also help in the development of disaster-readiness plans using lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaving no one behind

As the world moves toward recovery from one of the deadliest pandemics in history, it is important to have equitable strategies to ensure collective recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated inequalities and demonstrated how social and structural determinants of health affect health outcomes.

Continued and strengthened contributions by nurses toward achieving the SDGs could ensure a sustainable global recovery that leaves no one behind, including nurses themselves.


Shellian, B. (2020). ‘Do unto others’.

United Nations (n.d.). The 17 Goals.

Weisbeck, E. (2020). It’s time to use my voice to support Black Lives Matter. Retrieved from

Deborah Baiden, RN, MScN, is a PhD nursing student at the University of Toronto and a director of research and policy at the Canadian Black Policy Network.