No Country Is Ready for a Pandemic
Tue, April 20, 2021

No Country Is Ready for a Pandemic

Many countries have boosted their preparedness against disease outbreaks since the Ebola breakout devastated West Africa in 2014 / Photo by: CDC Global via Wikimedia Commons

 

Many countries have boosted their preparedness against disease outbreaks since the Ebola breakout devastated West Africa in 2014. But as the outbreaks of contagion continue to rise, no country is completely prepared to respond to them—even as they increase their efforts to address these issues, according to a new global health report.

The Global Health Security (GHS) Index is the first report to assess countries' capabilities in preparedness against epidemics and pandemics. It is the first benchmark of health security, and results show that not a single country around the world is ready to address either an epidemic or pandemic.

Assessing Risks and Vulnerabilities

The report analyzed the capabilities of 195 nations, benchmarking health security in the context of key tools against outbreaks. This includes strengthened health systems, adherence to global norms, as well as political and security risks including the public's trust in the government.

The average overall GHS Index score is 40.2 out of a possible 100 and even as high-income economies like the US, Canada, and European countries report an average score of 51.9 on the index, the overall international preparedness for epidemics and pandemics is still very weak.

Fewer than seven percent of countries scored the highest ranking in the assessment of prevention of the emergence or release of pathogens while only 19 percent of countries got top marks in the assessment of early detection and reporting of epidemics that could be of international concern.

The report analyzed the capabilities of 195 nations, benchmarking health security in the context of key tools against outbreaks / Photo by: Sarah Stierch via Wikimedia Commons

 

"The GHS Index finds that no country is fully prepared for naturally occurring, intentional, or accidental infectious disease outbreaks," Jennifer Nuzzo, associate professor at the Bloomberg School and senior scholar at the Center for Health Security, said in a statement.

"Knowing that there is work to do, countries can use the index to identify gaps, build preparedness and best practices, and track progress over time."

Other findings show that less than five percent of countries worldwide received high scores in immediate response to and mitigation of the spread of an epidemic. The lowest-scoring category was having an adequate and full-bodied health sector to treat the ill and protect health workers with an average score of 26.4 out of 100.

Overall, at least 75 countries received low scores on the index's global catastrophic biological risk-related indicators, with the greatest vulnerability being oversight of dual-use research.

A Collective Responsibility

Tom Inglesby, director at the Center for Health Security, believes that the absence of adequate preparedness puts countries at the mercy of infectious disease outbreaks, which can cause significant harm to health, peace, and prosperity.

"It is important for national leaders to understand the risks that infectious diseases pose and commit to making improvements in preparedness for these events," he said.

The findings of the GHS index highlight the notable disparities in global health security, which comes as an ongoing Ebola outbreak continue to devastate the Democratic Republic of Congo and five years after the UN Security Council met in crisis over the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.

The report is founded on the idea that health security is a collective responsibility, the statement in the report said. With this, the index provided recommendations to both individual countries and the international countries, including that:

• By 2021, the UN Secretary-General should gather all heads of state to discuss biological threats as well as focus on financing and emergency response.
• Governments should commit and comply with actions in addressing health security risks.
• Transparency and regular monitoring of health security capacity should be present in every country, with results being published at least once every two years.
• Coordination should be improved among leaders in disadvantaged environments, specifically in terms of linkages between security and public health authorities.
• New financing mechanisms be established to address preparedness gaps as well as the expansion of the World Bank International Development Association (IDA) allocations to include preparedness.
• The UN Secretary-General should designate a permanent facilitator or unit for high-consequence biological events.
• There should be annual testing of health security capacities and release of after-action reviews.
• An accounting of countries' political and security risk factors when supporting health security capacity development.

In Need of Political Will

No one knows when the next epidemic or pandemic will arrive and human technology has made the next outbreak inevitable. This is largely specific in the way that humans can travel more easily, thus, spreading the disease faster. 

Scientists are currently developing a universal influenza vaccine that could immunize humans from every possible flu strain for life. While this vaccine is nowhere near being deployed in the population yet, top governments like the US and European countries are vigorously supporting the research for a universal vaccine.

It is this political will that is needed to work, alongside knowing the risks, to protect people from the consequences of epidemics. Political will is the key to ensuring commitment to take action, save lives, and develop a safer and more secure world.

Scientists are currently developing a universal influenza vaccine that could immunize humans from every possible flu strain for life / Photo by: Yann via Wikimedia Commons