In April 2015, business magnate and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates gave a TED talk where he mentioned that “if there is anything that can kill more than 10 million people in the following decades, it is most likely to be a virus, rather than a war. “
During his conference – which today has more than 27 million views – Gates highlighted that the world currently has the tools to combat outbreaks, but these tools are useless if they are not affordable for all countries.
Some key items that Gates highlighted to be prepared to face a pandemic were: strong health systems, especially in poor countries; a reserve medical corps; a medical corps that aligns with the military; and simulations of how a virus might act.
So, with the appearance of the Coronavirus at the end of 2019, Gates’ talk has raised the question: how prepared are countries to face this pandemic? It can be answered with specific facts.
Tools can be used to answer this question easily, such as the Global Health Safety Index (GHS), served to measure the capacities of 195 countries to respond to emergencies such as COVID-19. Some of the categories that measure response capacity are: emergency prevention; detection of an epidemic; response to mitigate and avoid spreading the epidemic; robust health sector to care for the sick; commitment to adhere to the standards; and vulnerability to biological threats.
It is important highlighting that this report works only with such information officially published by the country, or reported to international entities such as the World Health Organization. These are some conclusions of the GHS index.
Through 140 questions, the GHS Index measures the country’s capabilities and breaks them down into categories. The questions are designed to measure the existence of capacity to respond to a crisis, and that the capacity is regularly tested (e.g., every year) to be prepared for a real event, such as the Coronavirus. The global average score is 40.2 out of 100; however, in high-income countries, the score rises to 51.9.
According to the general count, the best prepared country for an epidemic is the United States, followed by the United Kingdom and Canada (with scores of 83.5, 77.9 and 75.3, respectively). The countries least prepared for the current crisis, according to the index, are Equatorial Guinea, Somalia, North Korea and São Tomé and Príncipe (with scores between 16 and 17).
On the Americas, the United States and Canada are the only countries that are in the best prepared category. Among the worst prepared are Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, and Venezuela. The rest of the countries are in the prepared category.
Specifically, in Latin America, the virus took less than a month to spread throughout the region, and it currently represents 5.6% of confirmed cases. According to the GHS, the best prepared country in the region is Brazil, followed by Argentina. The worst prepared are Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
When comparing all Latin American countries, it can be noted that there are no large differences. The general score shows that the best prepared country is Ecuador with 50.1 points, followed by Peru with 49.2, Colombia with 44.2 and Panama with 43.7.
Now, to contrast the scores with a real case, the numbers of deaths from Coronavirus given by Johns Hopkins University until April 27 can be used. Peru has the highest number of deaths with 782, followed by Ecuador with 663, Colombia with 244 and Panama with 165.
With this information at hand, it is possible to know the capabilities and deficiencies of each nation. By understanding the gaps in emergency preparedness in each country, concrete steps can be taken to fill and fund them, and certainly be prepared for the next time an epidemic arises.
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