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We’re ‘dangerously unprepared’ for future pandemics even after COVID, global study warns

December 8, 2021, 5:05 PM UTC

The world has had nearly two years to study and learn about life in a pandemic, but it remains “dangerously unprepared” for future epidemic and pandemic threats, including those that could be much more devastating than COVID-19, says a new report issued Wednesday.

The Global Health Security Index (GHSI) measures the capacities of 195 countries to prepare for epidemics and pandemics—and none of them, including the United States, came out looking good.

Researchers looked a number of factors in scoring countries, including their ability to prevent, detect and respond to health emergencies, as well as socio-economic resilience and political factors. The average country score was 38.9 out of 100, a number that was essentially unchanged from 2019. The U.S. had the highest score, but still only reached 75.9, in large part because of low public confidence in government.

Australia, Finland, Canada and Thailand rounded out the Top five countries. Somalia was the lowest ranked country, with a score of 16.

The GHSI is compiled by officials at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a D.C.-based nonprofit global security group. It was developed in consultation with an international panel of 18 experts from 13 countries.

“Leaders now have a choice,” Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said in a statement. “They can make dedicated, sustainable investments in the new capacities created during the COVID-19 response to prepare their countries for the long term, or they can fall back into the decades-long cycle of panic-and-neglect that will leave the world at grave risk for inevitable future public health threats.”

The study found that most countries, including high-income nations, have not made financial investments to improve capacity, outside of public health emergencies, to address epidemic threats and have seen little or no improvements in maintaining a robust, capable, and accessible health system for outbreak detection and response.

Most countries have low- to moderate levels of confidence in their governments. And 176 countries have not published and implemented an overarching national public health emergency response plan for diseases with epidemic or pandemic potential.

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