Earlier this year, a list was unveiled of ten diseases which could result in a future epidemic in India. Now, an index has been unveiled of countries ranked according to their preparedness in the face of a future infectious disease outbreak of epidemic or pandemic proprtions.
The Global Health Security Index – prepared by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) – ranks India 57th out of 195 countries. “No country is fully prepared for naturally occurring, intentional, or accidental infectious disease outbreaks,” commented Jennifer Nuzzo, an associate professor at the Bloomberg School and senior scholar at the Center for Health Security. “Knowing that there is work to do, countries can use the index to identify gaps, build preparedness and best practices, and track progress over time.”
The report comes on the heels of outbreaks of diseases such as Ebola and Zika in recent years. India is no stranger to disease outbreaks of its own: in addition to communicable conditions such as HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis circulating for years, the country has witnessed emerging diseases take a toll. A notable example is the Nipah virus, outbreaks of which occurred in Kerala both last year and this year. While this year no fatalities were reported, the potential for resurgences in future years is very real.
The average score of countries on the Global Health Security Index was forty out of 100. India scored 46.5. Fewer than seven percent of countries score in the higher tier on the Index and just nineteen percent score above 66.7. As such, the report calls for a United Nations meeting to be convened about biological threats; for governments to make a committed pledge to health security, including emergency preparedness; and for financing to be ensured to plug the gaps where they appear. “Without a way of identifying gaps in the system, we are much more vulnerable than we need to be,” said Leo Abruzzese, global health advisor for the EIU.
“In light of challenges in responding to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, political and security risks are clear barriers to effective response [to epidemics],” the report said. It is clear that more needs to be done, in India and in other nations, to be vigilant against the prospect of disease outbreaks on a large scale.
“Whether they be natural, accidental, or deliberate, infectious disease outbreaks can cause significant harm to health, peace, and prosperity if countries are not adequately prepared,” states Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security. “It is important for national leaders to understand the risks that infectious diseases pose and commit to making improvements in preparedness for these events.”