The Economist Intelligence Unit's first Global Health Security Index finds that the national health security is fundamentally weak around the world.
The STAR/KJ Rosales, File
Philippines ranks 53rd in epidemics preparedness study but global outlook not looking good
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - October 25, 2019 - 3:07pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 3:27 p.m.) — A new study showed that the Philippines placed 53rd out of 195 examined countries when it comes to global health security capabilities while adding that no nation in the world is sufficiently prepared for the next pandemic.

"National health security is fundamentally weak around the world," the first Global Health Security Index of The Economist Intelligence Unit said Friday. "No country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics, and every country has important gaps to address."

The summary was based on a number of healthcare indicators which included prevention, detection and reporting, rapid response, robustness of health systems, compliance with international norms and risk environment. 

For their analysis, the GHS Index largely relied on open-source information consisting of locally or internationally-published data about each country. "The GHS Index was predicated on data transparency out of a firm belief that all countries are safer and more secure if they understand each other’s gaps in epidemic and pandemic preparedness," the report said. 

Unpreparedness, a global epidemic 

After the global average overall score was put at 40.2 out of a possible 100, GHS asserted that overall international preparedness worldwide was weak, noting that "fewer than 7% of countries scored in the highest tier for the ability to prevent the emergence or release of pathogens."

According to the report, not even world powers, including the United States, were ready enough to face global pandemics, even though higher-income countries reported an average score of 51.9. "Most countries (67%) score in the bottom tier for health system indicators," the report added.

When it came to funding, GHS noted that “Although 86% of countries invest local or donor funds in health security, few countries pay for health security gap assessments and action plans out of national budgets.”

Thailand and South Korea placed among the best-performing countries in the index’s 195 included countries, but the report noted that the rest of Asia still faces sizable gaps.

A matter of policy 

In a segment outlining the principles behind the formation of the report, the index included:

  • The exercise and execution of existing capacities aimed at addressing bio threats
  • The presence of stable political and social systems to initiate and complement existing healthcare systems to combat future pandemics 
  • Identifying and preventing future biohazards before they happen
  • The reduction of existing “Global Catastrophic Biological Risks”
  • Global transparency with regards to pandemic preparedness

The report pointed to worldwide trends that could result in mass population loss if left unchecked. “Global trends in technology, travel, trade, and terrorism are increasing the risk of a globally catastrophic biological event, but decision makers are not yet planning for [future] biological events,” the GHS Index said. 

Interestingly, the report also noted that "countries with effective governance and political systems" generally scored higher overall scores than countries that didn't. 

Listing key findings and recommendations, the index said that "only 23% of countries score in the top tier for indicators related to their political system and government effectiveness, which can have a major impact on national capability to address biological threats."

Outlining the principles of its index, the report said that "global health security depends on the presence of a stable political, social, and economic environment." It also asserted that “political will is needed to save lives and build a safer and more secure world.”

Closer to home 

Although the Philippines ranked well above the average score worldwide for many of the GHS Index indicators, one area the archipelago notably lacked was risk environment. Under this category, political and security risks notched a score of 39.3 out of a worldwide average of 60.4, while infrastructure adequacy was ranked 33.3 out of 49.0 and public health vulnerabilities scored 41.4 out of 46.9. The epidemiology workforce indicator of the detection and reporting category scored 25 out of 42.3.

Alarmingly, the country scored 0 in linking public health and security authorities, communications with healthcare workers during a public health emergency, dual-use research and culture of responsible science, bioscience, and joint external evaluations and performance of veterinary services.

Today, groups are calling the public healthcare situation in the country a crisis of its own with many bemoaning the system’s pronounced underfunding. Beyond this, the country also has the outbreak of infectious diseases and growing distrust in vaccines to reckon with. Just last September 20, a three-year-old girl in Lanao del Sur was reported to have contracted polio, the country's first case since being declared polio-free in 2000.

These issues come as the Department of Health prepares for the implementation of the Universal Health Care law in 2020.

In the Philippines, the health worker-to-person ratio stands at only 19 per 10,000, massively below the World Health Organization recommendation of at least be 45 health workers for every 10,000 persons.

Recommendations 

A joint project of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and The Economist Intelligence Unit, the report outlined a number of recommendations for administrations, including: 

  • That governments and international organizations alike "should commit" to addressing issues related to health security, and later convene for a "heads of state summit" called by the UN Secretary-General to address issues and explore the possibility of "a dedicated international normative body" for identifying looming biohazards 
  • That world leaders take steps to improve and operationalize linkages between public health and security bodies, an area that consistently ranked in the lower-tiers across all the included nations 
  • The provision of more financing mechanisms from both the public and private sector to address existing preparedness gaps 
  • The regular measurement, assessment and testing of existing mechanisms and future measures taken, to be succeeded by the publication of findings, a theme consistently emphasized throughout the report 

For the GHS Index, gathering, analyzing and publishing existing data would spur political will, give way to informed decisions on the part of policy-makers and incentivize further improvements on healthcare systems. 

HEALTH SECURITY
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