New research shows that the U.S. hasn’t figured out how to contain a beast like COVID-19 — even after living through.
It’s reasonable to assume that an all-consuming monster like COVID-19 would force the world to start thinking about (and preparing for) the next big pandemic, but, unfortunately for all of us, it’s not looking like it. According to a new report by the Global Health Security Index, all of the 195 countries it assessed remained decidedly not ready to meet future pandemic threats.
The Index assessed countries based on six categories and 37 indicators and drew from publicly available information to answer 171 questions. Among the key findings was that although the United States stayed at the number one spot in terms of overall preparedness, it ranked embarrassingly low in certain categories, including public confidence in government which, as we’ve seen, has disastrous impacts during a pandemic.
And although having the top spot seems impressive, the U.S. still only scored 75.9 out of 100, the same as it did two years ago. That, in my humble opinion, indicates that we haven’t learned much — even after all this.
It wasn’t just the U.S. who flunked Pandemic 101. Most countries were just as prepared in 2021 for a major pandemic as they were in 2019, with an average score of 38.9 out of 100, via the Washington Post. In case it’s been a while since you were last in high school, that’s like, way below an F minus, which is not that surprising considering that at least 5 million people have died from COVID in just two years.
The world’s unpreparedness to deal with the next deadly illness runs uncomfortably deep. For example, only one-quarter of the nations in the report increased funding to improve their capacity to deal with a future epidemic threat. Seventy percent still have insufficient capacity in their hospitals and clinics, and public trust in government has decreased all across the world. Not that anything should shock us at this point, but two-thirds of countries in the report haven’t even published a national health emergency response plan for future pandemics. Clearly, we haven’t learned our lesson.
Now, I know how disquieting it is to bring up the possibility of a future pandemic when we’re still dealing with brand new variants of COVID. But the unfortunate truth is that the next deadly disease won’t wait for us to get the last one under control — it could strike us at any moment, just like this one did (insert scream emoji here). Also, climate change and deforestation will continue to increase the likelihood of new deadly diseases, since most pandemics start from encounters between wildlife and humans. This report is an act of tough love, really, telling us that we need to get our shit together.
The Global Health report also included steps that countries can take to improve their scores and most of them seem pretty doable. They include recommendations for countries to be more transparent about their capabilities when it comes to a pandemic so that shortcomings can be addressed, allocating funds for national health security and creating detailed emergency plans.
When the next big one hits, it’ll be too late to start preparing. If we take serious measures to get ready, the worst that could happen is that we’ll be overly-prepared; the best that could come out of it is millions of lives saved. Now is the time to pressure public officials to gear up for the next disease, because we definitely can’t afford to repeat history.