Zimbabwe More Prepared For Epidemics: Global Health Security Index

AT a time when Zimbabweans assume the country is not prepared for the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19), a latest Global Health Security Index report ranked Zimbabwe among the top 10 of African countries for being ‘more prepared’.  Zimbabwe is number nine out of 54 African countries while being number 152 out of 195 on the globe.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

Zimbabwe’s southern neighbour South Africa is number one on the continent with Mozambique to the east number 35 in Africa where as Zambia is number 34  and Botswana to the West number 26.

The Global Health Security (GHS) Index is the first comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security and related capabilities across the 195 countries that make up the States Parties to the International Health Regulations (IHR [2005]). The GHS Index is a project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (JHU) and was developed with The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

These organizations believe that, over time, the GHS Index will spur measurable changes in national health security and improve international capability to address one of the world’s most omnipresent risks: infectious disease outbreaks that can lead to international epidemics and pandemics.

Indicators used in the report include prevention, detection and reporting, rapid or emergency response, the health system, compliance with International norms and the risk environment.

Despite Zimbabwe being more prepared, GHS however found that National health security is fundamentally weak around the world.

No country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics, and every country has important gaps to address.

“Countries are not prepared for a globally catastrophic biological event. There is little evidence that most countries have tested important health security capacities or shown that they would be functional in a crisis,” read the report.

Added GHS, “Most countries have not allocated funding from national budgets to fill identified preparedness gaps. More than half of countries face major political and security risks that could undermine national capability to counter biological threats.

“Most countries lack foundational health systems capacities vital for epidemic and pandemic response. Coordination and training are inadequate among veterinary, wildlife, and public health professionals and policymakers. Improving country compliance with international health and security norms is essential.”

Zimbabwe has been making preparations for the coronavirus detecting a suspected case at Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare, its capital.

Lab kits, reagents and thermo-scanners for fever are in country with protective gear available to handle the coronavirus disease. For treatment, the country relies on Kaletra, an antiretroviral drug effectively used in infected countries such as South Korea.

Below are the  recommendations.

The report offers 33 individual recommendations related to the data findings across its 6 categories. The following is a subset of high-level recommendations related to overarching findings. Download the report for the full listing of recommendations.

  • National governments should commit to take action to address health security risks. Leaders should closely coordinate and track in-country health security investments with an emphasis on coordinating them with improvements to routine public health and healthcare systems.
  • Health security capacity in every country should be transparent and regularly measured. The results of those external evaluations and self-assessments should be published at least once every two years.
  • National and international health, security, and humanitarian leaders should improve coordination among sectors, including operational links between security and public health authorities, in response to high-consequence biological events, deliberate attacks, and events occurring in insecure environments. They also should work to reduce political and socioeconomic risk factors that can impede outbreak response, including in conflict zones.
  • New financing mechanisms to fill epidemic and pandemic preparedness gaps are urgently needed and should be established. These could include a new multilateral global health security financing mechanism, such as a global health security matching fund; expansion of availability of the World Bank International Development Association (IDA) allocations to allow for preparedness financing; and/or development of other new ways—including through existing donor and multilateral financing programs for global health and disaster preparedness and response—to expand resources to incentivize countries to prioritize preparedness funding.
  • The Office of the UN Secretary-General, working in concert with the WHO, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, should designate a permanent facilitator or unit for high-consequence biological events that could overwhelm the capacities of the current international epidemic response architecture and result in mass casualties. This function would not be operational in nature, but rather the facilitator or unit would convene the public health, security, and humanitarian sectors before and during crises to identify and fill gaps in global preparedness specific to rapidly spreading events with the potential for great loss of life. The person or unit with this responsibility also would spur simulation exercises in concert with the UN Operations and Crisis Centre to promote unity of effort across public health, humanitarian, and security-led responses.
  • Countries should test their health security capacities and publish after-action reviews, at least annually. By holding annual simulation exercises, countries will show commitment to a functioning system. By publishing after-action reviews, countries can transparently demonstrate that their response capabilities will function in a crisis and can identify areas for improvement.
  • National governments and donors should take into account countries’ risk factors for significant disease outbreaks when making resources available to support health security capacity development. Countries with low scores related to risk environment should be identified as priority areas for capacity development and should receive prompt international assistance when infectious disease emergencies occur within their borders.
  • Given the enormous national need, the UN Secretary-General should call a heads-of-state-level summit on biological threats by 2021 focused on creating sustainable health security financing and new international emergency response capabilities.

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