Health and sustainable development are intrinsically interlinked. This is particularly evident when considering the broad definition by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Alleviating poverty will ultimately lead to improvement in health conditions, but improving health will, in turn, promote economic development. This was recognised at international level as well as at national level by many countries, acknowledging that investing in health is a strategy for achieving sustainable development as reported by the WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health.
Addressing economic, social and environmental determinants of health is a prerequisite for ensuring health in its broadest sense as defined by WHO. This requires inter-sectoral collaboration and the inclusion of health considerations in defining policies in all sectors. Health in all policies describes this philosophy that ensures that public policies across sectors systematically consider the implications of these policies on health, taking into considerations their effects on its various determinants. It is a new name to an old concept, which still proves valid. It has been considered by EU Member States in the Maastricht Treaty, but also at the international level, for example in environmental conventions such as the Stockholm and he Minamata Conventions.
The Millennium Development Goals and, more recently, the Sustainable Development Goals, being global strategies to guide actions on sustainable development, are closely related to the principle of ensuring health in all policies. The workplace is of particular importance given that workplace policies, being a prerequisite for economic development, affect not only the health of workers, but also that of their families and communities. Integrated approaches to ensuring healthy workplaces would serve as a good basis for such policies. Political will, and commitment at the highest political level, are needed to ensure a collaborative inter-sectoral approach to development, which fully considers the need to address health in policies of all sectors.