The Covid-19 outbreak that started two years ago has so far killed over five million people, but Bangladesh as well as the entire world has not made much progress yet in preparing for any possible future pandemic, according to a report released on Wednesday.
Most countries are underprepared for future epidemic and pandemic threats and even for small outbreaks of disease, said the 2021 Global Health Security (GHS) Index released by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The researchers found insufficient capacity in every country, which left the world vulnerable to future health emergencies including some that might be more devastating than Covid-19.
The latest edition of the 2021 Global Health Security Index ranks Bangladesh 95th among 195 countries in respect of their ability to respond to pandemics.
The previous report in 2019, published just a few months before the emergence of Covid-19, ranked Bangladesh 115th among 195 countries.
Bangladesh scored 23.7 out of 100 in the first pillar called Prevention of The Emergence or Release of Pathogens, which was its lowest score within the GHS Index.
The country scored its highest – 43.8 – in the Detection and Reporting pillar. The country's previous score in this pillar in 2019 was 39.6. Bangladesh is ranked 49 in this category, where the world average score is 32.3.
In the last two years, Bangladesh only improved its capacity on some sub indicators like, immunisation, laboratory systems strength and quality, emergency preparedness and response planning, exercising response plans, emergency response operation, health capacity in clinics, hospitals, and community care centres.
The country had a low score in the Antimicrobial Resistance category which indicates when bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change over time and no longer respond to medicines, making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death.
Bangladesh scored zero out of 100 in some sub-pillars like, biosecurity, biosafety, linking public health and security authorities, infection control practices.
It also scored poorly in case-based investigation, trade and travel restriction, infrastructure adequacy etc.
Despite all the facts, Bangladesh's place on Bloomberg's Covid Resilience Ranking was 17 with a score 66.2 as of November 30.
Bangladesh has so far reported more than 1.5 million Covid-19 cases and 28,000 deaths.
South Asia's average score as a whole was 26.6, representing the second lowest among five tiers.
All the scores are normalised to a score of 0 to 100, where 100 means best health security condition.
India ranked top among the South Asian countries, and 66th among all the countries, with a score of 42.8, which has slipped by 0.8 points since 2019. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka and Maldives have improved their scores by 1-1.2 points.
The study report said most countries including the high-income nations have not made dedicated financial investments in strengthening epidemic or pandemic preparedness and the researchers saw little or no improvements in maintaining a robust, capable, and accessible health system for outbreak detection and response.
The US retains its top spot with a score of 75.9, despite both a high death and case rate and an early response. The US was followed by Australia, Finland, Canada, Thailand, Slovenia and UK.
"The result highlights that although the GHS Index can identify preparedness resources and capacities available in a country, it cannot predict whether or how well a country will use them in a crisis," the report said.
The average overall 2021 GHS Index score is 38.9 out of a possible score of 100. No country scored above 80 to secure a place in the top tier of the ranking.
The GHS Index is designed to inform leaders of the foundational elements that are necessary to prepare their countries for future outbreaks and where they should prioritise planning and durable funding. It is not a direct predictor of performance in the face of a health emergency; as Covid-19 has demonstrated—contextual social, political, and cultural phenomena also impact how well a country responds to a biological event.
"Leaders now have a choice," said Dr Jennifer Nuzzo, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. "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 findings of the GHS Index 2021 are based on a revised framework and updated data collection conducted between August 2020 and June 2021.
The index assessed countries across six pillars of health security, 37 indicators and 171 questions, using instantly available information.