- The New Paper
Remember the 2005 SARS epidemic? Or the recent ebola outbreak?
As it turns out, all of the countries in the world are not ready to deal with epidemics or pandemics, according to the inaugural Global Health Security (GHS) Index conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
In its report, the EIU found that Singapore ranks below Malaysia, and is only slightly more prepared than Indonesia, to deal with a pandemic.
The GHS Index released on Friday (Oct 25) showed that only 13 countries, including Thailand and South Korea, can be considered “most prepared” – but none are fully prepared.
Singapore ranked 24th out of 195 countries, with an overall index score of 58.7 – six places behind Malaysia, which had an index score of 62.2.
A joint project between the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the average overall GHS Index score globally was 40.2 out of a possible score of 100. Even among the 60 high-income countries assessed, the average score was barely above the midpoint at 51.9.
Globally, the US was the most prepared with an index score of 83.5, followed by the United Kingdom at 77.9 and Netherlands at 75.6.
Regionally, Thailand (73.2) took top spot as the most prepared in Asia, followed by South Korea (70.2).
The countries that were graded “more prepared” included Malaysia, Japan (59.8), Singapore, Indonesia (56.6), Vietnam (49.1), China (48.2), the Phillippines (47.6) and India (46.5).
Singapore better at responding, not committed to improving
The study assesses countries’ preparedness by looking at 34 indicators across six categories – prevention, detection, response, health system, adherence to global norms, and political and security risk.
Singapore achieved its highest ranking of 11th for “respond”, which measures the ability to rapidly respond to and mitigate the spread of an epidemic.
Additionally, it scored 100 marks for the indicators of biosafety, data integration, linking health and security authorities, risk communication, trade and travel restrictions and infrastructure adequacy.
However, it got zero marks on the indicators for exercising response plans, communication with healthcare workers during an emergency, cross-border agreements and the “dual-use of research and culture of responsible science”.
The Lion City was also weighed down by its low rank of 101 for the “norms” category, which measures a country’s adherence to global norms.
Malaysia did better than Singapore in almost every category.
Malaysia did relatively well in all areas, but excelled in the category of “detection” – achieving an index score of 73.2 and placing 28th in the world.
Similarly to Singapore, it scored maximum marks for the indicators of data integration, linking public health and security authorities and trade and travel restrictions.
On top of that, it also scored full marks for communication with public healthcare workers during emergencies, infection control practices and availability of equipment, and cross-border agreements.
More improvements needed globally
In order to improve preparedness, the report said that governments should test, measure, and publish health security capacities at least once every two years.
The report also said that leaders should increase commitment to address health security issues and improve coordination in “insecure environments”, especially links between security and public health securities.
Additionally, new financing mechanisms should be established to fill preparedness gaps.
Ernest J. Moniz, co-chair and CEO of NTI said: “The bottom line is that global biological risks are growing – in many cases faster than health systems, security, science, and governments can keep up”.
“We need to ensure that all countries are prepared to respond to these risks,” he said.
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