A leading biochemist and top health advisor to New Zealand’s government says the 2019 Global Health Security (GHS) Index was key to the country’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Siouxsie Wiles, a renowned infectious disease expert and advisor to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, told the Winnipeg Free Press that the report “really saved us” as New Zealand implemented a transparent and science-based decision-making process to lock down the country to eliminate the novel coronavirus.
The GHS Index ranked New Zealand 35 out of 195 countries in overall pandemic preparedness, and the data showed the country was lacking in key capacity areas. “The GHS Index and the unmitigated willingness of key decision-makers to own the country’s shortcomings may have spared the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of Kiwis,” the paper reported.
Wiles, known in New Zealand as the “COVID lady” for her effective public communication about the virus, said the GHS Index helped officials focus on areas that needed improvement. “The countries that thought they were prepared have done very badly,” she said. “We knew our testing and hospital capacity were really bad. And we also knew that countries all over the world were scrambling to get testing materials. We knew we couldn’t just rely on testing and contact tracing.”
An earlier article, published in New Zealand’s Newsroom.co.nz in April 2020, also cites the role of the GHS Index in the country’s successful response. Highlighting the work of New Zealand epidemiologist Nick Wilson who learned about the Index in November 2019, the article notes “The GHSI confirmed what Wilson had long known–New Zealand’s health system wasn’t ready for a pandemic. Combined with the knowledge, sitting in the back of every epidemiologist’s mind, that the next global pandemic could be right around the corner, the new information spurred Wilson to action.” Wilson worked to bring lessons from Index to the Ministry of Health, which responded that New Zealand scored well on international assessments. Wilson underscored the importance of an independent voice: “The trouble with those assessments is that… it doesn’t have the regularity and objectivity that the Global Health Security Index has, which is applied to all countries in a completely systematic way… The Global Health Security Index is much better.”
The GHS Index is the first comprehensive assessment of global health security capabilities in 195 countries. It is a joint project of the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, developed with The Economist Intelligence Unit and funded by the Open Philanthropy Project, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Robertson Foundation. The inaugural GHS Index report, released in October 2019, found that national health security is fundamentally weak around the world and no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics. It determined that every country has capacity gaps to address. The second edition of the GHS Index will be released in late 2021.