If a pandemic strikes, SA is well placed to deal with it, global report finds
SA is way ahead of most countries when it comes to preparedness to respond to a deliberate or accidental threat with the potential to wipe out humanity.
The country came 34th out of 195 in the first comprehensive assessment of global health capabilities assessed on this basis.
One of the international panel of experts who worked on the new Global Health Security Index was former DA MP Wilmot James, now visiting professor in political science and paediatrics at Columbia University in New York. James is a former dean of humanities at the University of Cape Town.
The index assesses factors critical to dealing with threats, such as robust health systems, adherence to global norms, and political and security risks, including public confidence in government.
SA does well in five of six preparedness categories but is below par in an assessment of compliance with international norms. Its score is dragged down by a particularly low rating when it comes to financing.
The US and other high-income countries score well in the index but SA was among a number of middle- and low-income countries that were placed higher than some wealthy countries.
It is the best prepared African country, with the next best — Kenya — featuring 21 places lower on the index. Equatorial Guinea is in last place.
Some affluent countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, scored less than 50 out of a possible score of 100. The average score among all 195 countries was 40.2, and SA’s score was 54.8.
The index is a project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in the US. More than 100 researchers spent a year collecting and validating data.
“Health security is a collective responsibility,” said Beth Cameron, of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. “Countries need to know how prepared they are. And they need to know how prepared their neighbours are. Otherwise we’ll never improve.”
Since the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic killed more than 11,000 people, many countries — especially in Africa — had been more willing to report their level of preparedness, said Cameron.
“But in terms of financing to fill the gaps, not enough has been done,” she said.
There needed to be a fundamental shift in understanding that biological catastrophes are a major peace and security risk, Cameron said. Biological threats were catastrophic, yet responsibility for them was “buried in the bowels of health ministries around the world”.
The report calls on the UN secretary-general to set up a permanent unit for high-consequence biological threats and call a heads-of-state level summit by 2021 on biological threats.