Sustainable Development Goals

The Nordic Countries and SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being

Tracking the progress of Nordic countries in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3, using the latest data from the UN and OECD.

In 2015, all United Nations (UN) member states adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), establishing a global agenda to create a better world by 2030. Described by the UN as a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet,” these goals are to be achieved by all countries through global partnerships.

This data tracker examines the latest official data to assess the progress of Nordic countries in achieving the SDGs. In particular, this page focuses on SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

Each of the targets that are part of SDG 1 is presented by first examining global trends, then narrowing in on the Nordic countries to evaluate their performance. The assessment is based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) analysis of progress made toward the SDGs across all OECD member countries.

Target 3.1

By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births


3.1.1Maternal mortality ratio
3.1.2Proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel

Global trends

A. Maternal mortality

The latest figures from 2017 show that the overall global maternal mortality ratio was above 200 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The maternal mortality ratio has declined over the last decades, and the level in 2017 was almost a third lower than in 2000. Still, based on the current trend, the target of reducing the ratio to no less than 70 per 100,000 live births by 2030 is not expected to be reached.

Although all regions have seen a decline in the maternal mortality ratio, the level in Sub-Saharan Africa significantly higher than in other regions, with 560 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. Europe and Northern America as well as Oceania are the only regions below the 2030 threshold of 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

Note that the regional groupings used in the visualisation above (and all other visualisations on this page with regional data) follow the UN regional classification for the Sustainable Development Goals.

B. Delivery coverage

Globally, 84% of births from 2015-2021 were assisted by skilled health personnel, an increase from the average share between 2008-2014 and 2001-2007.

All regions have seen an increase in the share of births attended by skilled health personnel, although the UN cautions in its latest SDG progress report that: “Available data does not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the disruption of services, which may reverse gains made over the past decades.

As with the maternal mortality ratio, Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the most challenging situation, with only 2 of 3 births attended by skilled health personnel on average between 2015-2021.

The Nordics

The maternal mortality ratio is extremely low in the Nordic countries, ranging between 2-4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The Nordics are also below the average for the Europe and North America region.

Almost all births in the Nordics are attended by skilled health personnel, and delivery coverage rates range between 95 and 100. Denmark and Iceland have seen their coverage rate decline slightly since 2000.

Looking at the progress made towards the two indicators combined, the OECD assessment gives weight to the decline in delivery coverage levels in Denmark and Iceland. Both countries are moving away from the SDG target and have a low likelihood of having full coverage in 2030 based on current trends.

Target 3.2

By 2030, end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births


3.2.1Under-5 mortality rate
3.2.2Neonatal mortality rate

Global trends

Under-5 mortality rate

Progress has been made in reducing child mortality worldwide. In 2020, the global average was 37 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 76 in 2000. The target of reducing the child mortality rate to 25 deaths per 1,000 live births by 2030 is within reach if current trends continue.

Reductions in the under-5 mortality rate have happened across all regions, with many of the most affected regions seeing significant reductions.

Neo-natal mortality rate

The world is also making progress toward reducing the neonatal mortality rate. From 2000 to 2020 it has fallen from 25 to 17 deaths per 1,000 live births. To reach the target of reducing the neonatal mortality rate to 12 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2030, the world is dependent on further progress being made in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southern Asia.

The Nordics

All the Nordic countries have seen declining rates child and neo-natal mortality, and all are currently below the global targets of 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births. The targets for 2030 have thus already been achieved.

Target 3.3

By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases


3.3.1Number of new HIV infections per 1,000 uninfected population
3.3.2Tuberculosis incidence per 100,000 population
3.3.3Malaria incidence per 1,000 population
3.3.4Hepatitis B incidence per 100,000 population
3.3.5Number of people requiring interventions against neglected tropical diseases

Global trends

While progress has also been made toward reducing the incidence of communicable diseases, the pace of progress is not sufficient to reach the ambitious target of ending their prevalence by 2030.




Hepatitis B

Tropical diseases

Regionally, Sub-Saharan Africa have high incidence rates across all the communicable diseases covered in the target. Notably, significant progress has been made towards reducing HIV incidence rates in the region between 2015 and 2020.




Hepatitis B

Tropical diseases

Importantly, in addition to the above diseases, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disastrous impact on global health over the past years. WHO estimates from mid-2022 shows the full death toll from 2020 and 2021 to be around 15 million. In addition to this comes the wider impact on health systems and society as the UN points out in its 2022 SDG progress report:

Global health systems have been overwhelmed and many essential health services have been disrupted, posing major threats to progress in fighting other deadly diseases.

The Nordics

All the Nordic countries have low incidence rates of communicable diseases that are included in this target. Note that due to data availability, AIDS incidence is used instead of HIV. There is no incidence of malaria in the Nordic countries.



Hepatitis B

Tropical diseases

Given the low incidence rates, the OECD estimates that there is a high likelihood that the 2030 target will be reached for the Nordic countries. However, looking at all the data combined, the trend estimate for Denmark means there is less likelihood that they will reach the target in 2030, specifically due to AIDS and tuberculosis trend estimates for 2030.

Target 3.4

By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being


3.4.1Mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease
3.4.2Suicide mortality rate

Global trends

The latest UN data from 2019 shows that the four main non-communicable diseases (NCDs), cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, or chronic respiratory disease, caused over 33 million deaths worldwide in 2019.

The mortality rate is defined as the probability of dying from any of the four main NCDs between the age of 30 and 70, and has declined slowly in recent years. From 23% in 2000, to 19% in 2015 and 18% in 2019.

Yet, the current rate of decline will not be sufficient to reach the target of reducing the mortality rate by one-third by 2030, compared to 2015 levels. This is despite all regions making some progress since 2015.

Most regions have seen declining mortality rates between 2000 and 2019. The lowest probability of dying from NCDs is in Australia and New Zealand. Oceania (excluding Australia and New Zealand) have the highest probability and is also the only region where it has gone up since 2000.

The second indicator for this target, the suicide mortality rate, shows a similar development. Over the last years, there has not been enough progress made to reach the target of reducing it by one-third by 2030. In 2000 it stood at 13 deaths from suicide per 100,000 population, which decrease to 9.5 in 2015 and 9.2 in 2019. Europe and Northern America is the region with the highest suicide rate.

Given that the latest data is from 2019, the UN warns in its 2022 SDG status report that:

Although the available data do not show an increase in suicide rates during the first months of the COVID-19 crisis, the pandemic has had a severe impact on the mental health and well-being of people around the world. In 2020, there was an 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. 

The Nordics

The Nordic countries have lower mortality rates than the OECD average from non-communicable diseases. In its assessment report, the OECD has set a target level of 7.5% in 2030 to preserve comparability among OECD countries, which Finland and Denmark are slightly less likely to reach than Iceland, Norway, and Sweden according to the OECD.

It is also unlikely that any of the Nordics will reach the 2030 target of reducing the suicide mortality rate, according to the OECD. The target suicide mortality rate for 2030, to preserve comparability across OECD countries, has been set at 3 per 100,000 persons.

The OECD finds in its combined assessment for this target that Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden are making progress but it is insufficient to reach the 2030 target, while Iceland is not making progress towards the target.

Target 3.5

Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol


3.5.1Coverage of treatment interventions (pharmacological, psychosocial and rehabilitation and aftercare services) for substance use disorders
3.5.2Alcohol per capita consumption (aged 15 years and older) within a calendar year in litres of pure alcohol

Global trends

No recent data is available at a global and regional level for the coverage of treatment interventions.

Data from 2019 shows that alcohol consumption globally is higher than at the start of the century. Europe and Northern America have the highest consumption, measured in liters of pure alcohol per capita.

Data on substance abuse other than alcohol is not available.

The Nordics

OECD data on alcohol consumption in the Nordics shows a mixed picture. Sweden is currently the only country deemed as being on track to reaching the 2030 target, set at 7.5 liters. Norway has low consumption levels but recent data from 2020 shows rising consumption. Iceland is also moving away from the target.

Target 3.6

By 2020, halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents


3.6.1Death rate due to road traffic injuries

Global trends

1.3 million people were killed from road injuries globally in 2019, compared to 1.15 million in 2000. Despite the absolute increase, the rate of death relative to the size of the global population has, however, decreased over the past two decades. In 2000 it stood at 19 deaths per 100,000 population, compared to 16.7 in 2019.

This indicates that road safety has improved in light of increasing population growth and increased motorization worldwide. Yet, the target of halving the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic was not reached by 2020. The target has been extended to 2030.

According to the WHO, road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged 5-29 years.

At a regional level, Europe and Northern America is the region that has made most progress toward reducing death rates caused by road traffic injuries over the past two decades.

The Nordics

All the Nordic countries have made progress towards this target, and have low death rates compared to other OECD countries. The OECD has set a benchmark of reducing death rates to 2.7 (half the median rate for OECD countries in 2015).

Based on the latest data, the Norway, Sweden, and Iceland have a high likelihood of reaching the target in 2030, according to the OECD.

Target 3.7

By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes


3.7.1Proportion of women of reproductive age (aged 15–49 years) who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods
3.7.2Adolescent birth rate (aged 10–14 years; aged 15–19 years) per 1,000 women in that age group

Global trends

77% of women of reproductive age had their family planning needs met by modern contraceptive methods in 2021. The share has remained stable for the last few years at a global level, yet at a regional level it has increased in several regions. The largest increase has been observed in Sub-Saharan Africa (from 36% in 2000 to 56% of women in 2021).

The adolescent birth rate, measured as births per 1,000 adolescent women from 15-19 years, has fallen steadily over the past two decades. The rates have declined in all regions, except Eastern and South-Eastern Asia (which already had one of the lowest levels.)

Note that no concrete target for 2030 has been set for either the adolescent birth rate nor the share of women who have their family planning needs met.

The Nordics

OECD data is avaliable for yearly tracking of the adolescent fertility rate in OECD countries, and the OECD has set a target for member countries at 3 per 1000 women in 2030. The current trajectory in all Nordic countries gives a high likelihood that they will reach this 2030 target.

Target 3.8

Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all


3.8.1Coverage of essential health services
3.8.2Proportion of population with large household expenditures on health as a share of total household expenditure or income

Global trends

Coverage of essential health services is measured by the WHO Universal Health Care Service Index Coverage. The index is reported on a scale from 0 to 100, where a higher score means a higher coverage. The 14 indicators that form part of the index include 1. Reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health 2. Infectious diseases 3. Noncommunicable diseases 4. Service capacity and access to essential health services.

From 2000 to 2019 the average global score has improved from 45 to 67, indicating that more people have gained access to essential services. All regions have improved their index score over this period. Data for 2020 and 2021 will most likely be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the UN expecting the progress to halt.

The latest data on household expenditures on health is from 2017, showing that already going into the pandemic, a rising share of the global population was having large out-of-pocket household expenditures on health (defined as spending more than 10% on household budget on health). The share has risen in most regions, with the largest increase in Eastern and South-Eastern Asia.

The Nordics

All the Nordic countries have near-universal coverage of core health services, and thus have a high score in the UHC service coverage index. Yet, as with other OECD countries, despite increasing coverage (as measured by the index) over recent years, none are on a trajectory towards full score (defined as above 97) by 2030.

Target 3.9

By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination


3.9.1Mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution
3.9.2Mortality rate attributed to unsafe water, unsafe sanitation and lack of hygiene (exposure to unsafe Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All (WASH) services)
3.9.3Mortality rate attributed to unintentional poisoning

Global trends

At a global level, the mortality rate attributed to household and ambient air pollution was 105 persons per 100,000 population in 2019. The mortality rate was highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (171) and lowest in Europe and Northern America (28).

The mortality rate attributed to unsafe water, sanitation, and lack of hygiene was at the global level of 18 persons per 100,000 population in 2019. In most regions, it was below 10 per 100,000, while it was highest in Sub-Saharan Africa (49) and Central and Southern Asia (32) in 2019.

The third indicator, mortality attributed to unintentional poisoning, has declined slightly over the past two decades. Unintentional poisoning is defined as death caused by chemicals, pesticides, kerosene, carbon monoxide and medicines, or can be the result of environmental contamination or occupational chemical exposure. Compared to 2000, all regions have lower mortality rates in the latest year available (2019).

The Nordics

All the Nordics have low mortality attributed to household and ambient pollution. The data also shows that mortality attributed to unsafe water, sanitation and lack of hygiene is virtually non-existent in the Nordics (all with rates at 4 or below per 100,000 population.)

OECD age-standardised rates for accidental poisoning show that none of the Nordics have managed to significally reduce mortality rates over the past two decades.

No assessment is shown, as new data has been released after the OECD published its report.

Target 3.a

Strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries, as appropriate


3.a.1Age-standardized prevalence of current tobacco use among persons aged 15 years and older

Global trends

The global average tobacco use rate has declined steadily. In 2020, about one-fifth of the global population was using tobacco. Rates have declined in all regions and were lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa (10%) in 2020.

The Nordics

The trend of declining tobacco use can also be seen in all the Nordic countries. Age-standardised rates show that the share of the population using tobacco has more than halved since 2000 in Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Yet, according to the OECD's assessment, the progress made is not sufficient to eradicate tobacco use by 2030, with Costa Rica the only OECD country currently on track to do so.

Target 3.b

Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all


3.b.1Proportion of the target population covered by all vaccines included in their national programme
3.b.2Total net official development assistance to medical research and basic health sectors
3.b.3Proportion of health facilities that have a core set of relevant essential medicines available and affordable on a sustainable basis

Global trends

Vaccine coverage

There are four types of vaccines that are tracked in the global SDG indicator framework: coverage of DTP containing vaccine, coverage of Measles containing vaccine, coverage of Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, and the HPV vaccine. Global coverage levels of all these vaccines have been on the rise in the last two decades. The UN SDG status report 2022 highlights three main points:

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disruptive effort on vaccinations, with infant immunization coverage dropping to 83% in 2020 from 86% in 2019.
  2. The current global coverage level of the measles vaccine (70%) is insufficient to prevent measles outbreaks illness, disability and deaths caused by complications associated with the disease.
  3. The HPV vaccine, targeting young girls to prevent cervical cancer, has a global coverage level of 12% but with large regional differences and has not yet reached the poorest countries.

Official Development Assistance (ODA)

Data for net ODA to medical research and basic health sectors is available from 2010, showing a doubling in total net disbursements from 2010 to 2020.

Health facilities

Data for this indicator is currently not available at the global or regional level.

The Nordics

The Nordic countries have high coverage levels of the DTP3, MCV2, and PCV3 vaccines. HPV coverage is more uneven, but high compared to other countries. All in all, this SDG target is already achieved in the Nordic countries.

Target 3.c

Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing States


3.c.1Health worker density and distribution

Global trends

There is no set target for 2030 for the indicator of health worker density. Yet, data for 2020 show large differences in healthcare worker density across regions. In Europe, there were almost 40 medical doctors per 10,000 population, in Sub-Saharan Africa only 2, and in South and South-Eastern Asia 8.

The Nordics

There is no set target for 2030, and the OECD considers the indicator of health worker density as contextual. The below visualisation details the density levels in the Nordic countries. Caution should be taken in comparing each occupational group between countries. The Nordics have a higher density of healthcare workers than the European average in all occupational groups, except pharmacists (Denmark and Iceland below the European average). Furthermore, the density levels have increased across all groups over the past two decades.

Target 3.d

Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks


3.d.1International Health Regulations (IHR) capacity and health emergency preparedness
3.d.2Percentage of bloodstream infections due to selected antimicrobial-resistant organisms

Global trends

Since 2010, data has been collected on the implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR). Under the IHR states are obliged to develop and maintain a range of minimum core capacities for potential public health events of international concern. Capacity is measured through an IHR capacity scores which as of 2021 cover 15 areas:

(1) Policy, legal and normative instruments to implement IHR; (2) IHR Coordination and National Focal Point Functions; (3) Financing; (4) Laboratory; (5) Surveillance; (6) Human resources; (7) Health emergency management (8) Health Service Provision; (9) Infection Prevention and Control; (10) Risk communication and community engagement; (11) Points of entry and border health; (12) Zoonotic diseases; (13) Food safety; (14) Chemical events; (15) Radiation emergencies.

The indicator set has been revised over the years, most recently in 2021. The below figure with the latest data shows that the current global average score (for all 15 capacities) was 64 out of 100, with Sub-Saharan Africa lowest at 48 and Australia and New Zealand highest at 87 out of 100.

Data on the second indicator, bloodstream infections due to selected antimicrobial-resistant organisms, is limited to a few years. A comparison between levels in 2016 and 2020 shows a rising trend in the share of bloodstream infections due to MRSA and Escherichia coli at the global level.

The Nordics

Data for the Nordics are only available for the IHR scores, showing that all countries were above the European average (77) in 2021. Tracking progress over time is a challenge due to the revised frameworks, most recently in 2021.

About the data

The data presented on global, regional, and national trends are from the UN SDG Global Database and the OECD unless otherwise stated.

The assessment of the Nordic countries is based on the findings from a recent OECD report, published in April 2022. The OECD uses a three-tier classification for each target:

  • Target is achieved or on track to being achieved
  • Progress has been made, but is insufficient to meet the target
  • No progress or moving away from the SDG target

In its assessment, the OECD looks at a country's current performance towards a target, and calculates a trend towards 2030 based on recent progress. As such, a country that is close to a target, but trending away from it, will be classified as having "No progress or moving away from the SDG target". Conversely, a country that is currently further away from the target, but trending towards it (and has a high likelihood of reaching it before 2030), will be classified as "Target is achieved or on track to being achieved".


  • Pilot release June 2022
  • Data and text update November 2022

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