Ranked: Global Pandemic Preparedness by Country
The world has experienced many pandemics throughout its history, but not every era has had the benefit of modern medicine and hindsight.
However, even with the readily available medical expertise and equipment that exists today, it is still unevenly distributed throughout the globe. Combine this with a highly interconnected global economy, and large populations are still at risk from infection.
Today’s chart pulls data from the 2019 Global Health Security Index, which ranks 195 countries on health security. It reveals that while there were top performers, healthcare systems around the world on average are fundamentally weak—and not prepared for new disease outbreaks.
Pathways for Commerce and Disease
Modern transportation and trade have linked the farthest stretches of the world to fuel a global economy. Physical distance plays less a limiting role and more an enabling one to form a flat world as Thomas Friedman put it, creating opportunities for commerce anywhere in the world.
A person can sell dishware from his home in Cusco, Peru, online to a customer in Muncie, Indiana, with products manufactured in China, from materials sourced in Africa.
While these connections sound sterile, there are people interacting with one another to procure, manufacture, package, and distribute the goods. The connections are not just through products, but also people and animals across many borders.
Now, add up the interactions within the global food supply chain with plants and livestock and tourism industries and place them under the pressures of climate change, urbanization, international mass displacement, and migration—and the volume and variety of opportunities for disease transmission and mutation becomes infinite.
The same pathways of global commerce become the transmission vectors for disease. A cough in Dubai can become a fever in London with one flight and one day.
You Cannot Manage What You Do Not Measure
Despite this, we still live with national healthcare systems that look inward towards national populations, with less of a focus on integrating what is happening with the outside world.
The Global Health Security (GHS) Index is the first comprehensive effort to assess and benchmark health security and related capabilities by nation, and it tracks six key factors to come up with an overall score for each of the 195 countries in the ranking:
Prevention of the emergence or release of pathogens
- Detection and Reporting
Early detection and reporting for epidemics of potential international concern
- Rapid Response
Capability of rapidly responding to and mitigating the spread of an epidemic
- Health System
Sufficient and robust and health system to treat the sick and protect health workers
- Compliance with Global Norms
Compliance with international norms by improving national capacity, financing plans to address gaps
- Risk Environment
Risk environment and country vulnerability to biological threats
Country Overall Rankings
Overall, the rankings uncover a distressing insight. Global preparedness for both epidemics and pandemics is weak, with the average score in the index sitting at 40.2 out of 100.
The countries with the highest scores have effective governance and politics systems in place, while those with the lowest scores fall down for their inadequate healthcare systems—even among high-income countries.
Here are the 50 highest-ranking countries in the index:
|Rank||Country||GHS Index Score|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||83.5|
|#2||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||77.9|
|#9||🇰🇷 South Korea||70.2|
You can view the complete rankings of all 195 countries on the GHS Index website.
Interestingly, 81% of countries score in the bottom tier for indicators related to biosecurity—and worse, 85% of countries show no evidence of having completed a biological threat-focused simulation exercise in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) in the past year.
Confirmed COVID-19 Cases vs. Global Health Security Score
Many healthcare systems have had their security tested with the outbreak of COVID-19.
Although it is still extremely early, there appears to be a relationship between a nation’s health security and its ability to cope with pandemics.
Takeaways: A World Unprepared
While there may be top performers relative to other countries, the overall picture paints a grim picture that foreshadowed the current crisis we are living through.
“It is likely that the world will continue to face outbreaks that most countries are ill positioned to combat. In addition to climate change and urbanization, international mass displacement and migration—now happening in nearly every corner of the world—create ideal conditions for the emergence and spread of pathogens.” – The Global Health Security Index, 2019
The report outlined eight critical insights about global health security in 2019 that reveal some of the problems countries are now facing.
- National health security is fundamentally weak globally. 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.
- 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 combat biological threats.
- Most countries lack basic health systems capacities critical 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.
A Stark Reality
The intention of the Global Health Security Index is to encourage improvements in the planning and response to one of the world’s most omnipresent risks–infectious disease outbreaks. When this report was released in 2019, it revealed that even the highest ranking nations still had gaps to fill in preparing for a pandemic.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. The COVID-19 outbreak has served as a wake-up call to health organizations and governments around the world. Once all of the curves have been flattened, the next version of this report will undoubtedly be viewed with renewed interest.
Charted: Healthcare Spending and Life Expectancy, by Country
This graphic looks at average life expectancies in countries around the world, compared to each country’s healthcare spending per capita.
Charted: Healthcare Spending and Life Expectancy, by Country
Over the last century, life expectancy at birth has more than doubled across the globe, largely thanks to innovations and discoveries in various medical fields around sanitation, vaccines, and preventative healthcare.
Yet, while the average life expectancy for humans has increased significantly on a global scale, there’s still a noticeable gap in average life expectancies between different countries.
What’s the explanation for this divide? According to World Bank data compiled by Truman Du, it may be partially related to the amount of money a country spends on its healthcare.
More Spending Generally Means More Years
The latest available data from the World Bank includes both the healthcare spending per capita of 178 different countries and their average life expectancy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the analysis found that countries that spent more on healthcare tended to have higher average life expectancies up until reaching the 80-year mark.
|Country||Health expenditure per capita (USD, 2019)||Life expectancy at birth, total (years, 2020)|
|United Arab Emirates||$1,843||78|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||$554||78|
|Antigua and Barbuda||$760||77|
|Iran, Islamic Rep.||$470||77|
|Trinidad and Tobago||$1,168||74|
|St. Vincent and the Grenadines||$355||73|
|Egypt, Arab Rep.||$150||72|
|Sao Tome and Principe||$108||71|
|Papua New Guinea||$65||65|
|Congo, Dem. Rep.||$21||61|
However, there were a few slight exceptions. For instance, while the United States has the largest spending of any country included in the dataset, its average life expectancy of 77 years is lower than many other countries that spend far less per capita.
What’s going on in the United States? While there are several intermingling factors at play, some researchers believe a big contributor is the country’s higher infant mortality rate, along with its higher relative rate of violence among young adults.
On the other end of the spectrum, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea have the highest life expectancies on the list despite their relatively low spending per capita.
It’s worth mentioning that this wasn’t always the case—in the 1960s, Japan’s life expectancy was actually the lowest among the G7 countries, and South Korea’s was below 60 years, making it one of the top 30 countries by improved life expectancy:
View the full-size infographic
In fact, the last 60 years have seen many countries substantially increase their average life expectancies from the 30-40 year range to 70+ years. But as the header chart shows, there are still many countries lagging behind in Africa, Asia, and Oceania.
How High Can Average Life Expectancy Go?
Since people are living longer than they’ve ever lived before, how much higher will average life expectancies be in another 100 years?
Recent research published in Nature Communications suggests that, under the right circumstances, human beings have the potential to live up to 150 years.
Projections from the UN predict that growth will be divided, with developed countries seeing higher life expectancies than developing regions.
However, as seen in the above chart from the World Economic Forum and using UN data, it’s likely the gap between developed and developing countries will narrow over time.
Visualizing the Composition of Blood
Despite its simple appearance, blood is made up of many microscopic elements. This infographic visualizes the composition of blood.
The Composition of Blood
Have you ever wondered what blood is made up of?
With the average adult possessing five to six liters of blood in the body, this fluid is vital to our lives, circulating oxygen through the body and serving many different functions.
Despite its simple, deep-red appearance, blood is comprised of many tiny chemical components. This infographic visualizes the composition of blood and the microscopic contents in it.
What is Blood Made Up Of?
There are two main components that comprise blood:
- Plasma – 55%
Plasma is the fluid or aqueous part of blood, making up more than half of blood content.
- Formed elements – 45%
Formed elements refer to the cells, platelets, and cell fragments that are suspended in the plasma.
Plasma is primarily made up of water (91%), salts, and enzymes, but it also carries important proteins and components that serve many bodily functions.
Plasma proteins make up 7% of plasma contents and are created in the liver. These include:
These proteins keep fluids from leaking out of blood vessels into other parts of the body. They also transport important molecules like calcium and help neutralize toxins.
These play an important role in clotting blood and fighting infections and are also transporters of hormones, minerals, and fats.
- Fibrinogen and Prothrombin
Both of these proteins help stop bleeding by facilitating the creation of blood clots during wound-healing.
Water and proteins make up 98% of plasma in blood. The other 2% is made up of small traces of chemical byproducts and cellular waste, including electrolytes, glucose, and other nutrients.
There are three categories of formed elements in blood: platelets, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells make up 99% of formed elements, with the other 1% comprised of platelets and white blood cells.
- Platelets (Thrombocytes)
Platelets are cells from the immune system with the primary function of forming clots to reduce bleeding from wounds. This makes them critical not only for small wounds like cuts but also for surgeries and traumatic injuries.
- White blood cells (Leukocytes)
White blood cells protect our bodies from infection. There are five types of white blood cells with different roles in fighting infections: some attack foreign cells and viruses, some produce antibodies, some clean up dead cells, and some respond to allergens.
- Red blood cells (Erythrocytes)
Red blood cells deliver fresh oxygen and nutrients all over the body. They contain a special protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen and gives blood its bright red color.
The lifespan of a typical red blood cell is around 120 days, after which it dies and is replaced by a new cell. Our bodies are constantly producing red blood cells in the bone marrow, at a rate of millions of cells per second.
Abnormal Red Blood Cells
Normal red blood cells are round, flattened disks that are thinner in the middle. However, certain diseases and medical therapies can change the shape of red blood cells in different ways.
Here are the types of abnormal red blood cells and their associated diseases:
Sickle cell anemia is a well-known disease that affects the shape of red blood cells. Unlike normal, round red blood cells, cells associated with sickle cell disease are crescent- or sickle-shaped, which can slow and block blood flow.
Other common causes of abnormally shaped red blood cells are thalassemia, hereditary blood disorders, iron deficiency anemia, and liver disease. Identifying abnormal blood cells plays an important role in diagnosing the underlying causes and in finding treatments.
The Functions of Blood
We know that blood is vital, but what does it actually do in the body?
For starters, here are some of the functions of blood:
- Blood transports oxygen to different parts of the body, providing an energy source. It also delivers carbon dioxide to the lungs for exhalation.
- The platelets, white blood cells, and plasma proteins in blood play an important role in fighting infections and clotting.
- Blood transports the body’s waste products to the kidneys and liver, which filter it and recirculate clean blood.
- Blood helps regulate the body’s internal temperature by absorbing and distributing heat throughout the body.
While we all know that we can’t live without blood, it serves many different functions in the body that we often don’t notice. For humans and many other organisms alike, blood is an integral component that keeps us alive and going.
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