Defining Preparedness, Capacity, and Capability
  • Analysis
  • December 8, 2021

Preparedness, capacity, and capability are important concepts to the GHS Index.

The UN and WHO define preparedness as the ability of governments, professional response organizations, communities, and individuals to anticipate, detect, and respond effectively to, and recover from, the impact of likely, imminent, or current health emergencies, hazards, events, or conditions. It means putting in place mechanisms that will allow national authorities, multilateral organizations, and relief organizations to be aware of risks and deploy staff and resources quickly once a crisis strikes.

The words capacity and capability often are used interchangeably, but there are important differences. Capacity is thought of as the resources one has to complete a task—plans, tools, personnel, and funds—at a given moment. Capability reflects the knowledge, abilities that can be used, developed, or improved to complete a task. Having capacities that function as needed may be essential in having the capability to complete a task. Having the resources to complete a task (capacity) does not directly translate into being able to use them to their fullest extent (capability). That fact has been evident throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of an infectious disease threat—including health, economic, and social impacts—is shaped by many factors, including political decision making, the type of disease and its mode of infection, and even chance. To assess preparedness, the GHS Index reviews factors that are measurable and have transparent and available data that allow them to be observed. The GHS Index cannot predict how resources will be used when a crisis occurs.