One of my best friends is an infectious disease doctor in Lviv, and throughout the pandemic, I had a chance to learn a lot about Ukraine’s preparation for the pandemic. From the shocking lack of protective equipment, unwillingness to get vaccinated to a late start of and insufficient testing, malfunctions of our health system have been blatantly exposed by the COVID-19 crisis.
Time will tell what and when exactly went so wrong, but one thing is clear: we could have done better. In fact, according to the Consumer Choice Center’s Pandemic Resilience Index 2021, which I co-authored, we did the worst in the world.
To demonstrate global preparedness for the pandemic which was by and large foreseeable, we examined 40 countries through the prism of the following factors: vaccine approval, vaccination drive, as well as the number of intensive care beds, and the pace of testing. The said indicators are crucial components of health resilience as the ability to envisage COVID-alike threats, recognize them early on, respond without resorting to panic and rushed decision making, avoid shortages, identify and tackle regulatory barriers, and sustain the state of preparedness.
Based on the findings, the resilience of countries was assessed as the highest, above average, average, below average and lowest. Israel and the United Arab Emirates topped the list, while most EU countries showed average preparedness. Britain and the United States are above average.
New Zealand and Ukraine have shown the lowest resilience. In the case of New Zealand, its lag can be explained by its location and the strict closure of borders. Due to a small number of cases, the health system As a result of very few cases, its health system did not quite face the emergency test of the sweeping gravity.
Instead, in the case of Ukraine, the reasons are different. As a post-Soviet state trying to make its way into the European Union, Ukraine has failed to uphold effective healthcare system reform. Combined with corruption, regulatory barriers to vaccine approvals, and inefficient management, Ukraine had not only failed to recognize the rising rates of the infection early on and act on it, but also to quickly adapt its health system to the needs of the day.
Let’s look at some numbers. It took Ukraine 84 days longer than the UK and more than 50 days longer than the EU to officially start vaccination. The delays are largely the result of short-sightedness and a lack of anti-COVID strategy. Only Australia, which started vaccination on February 25, 2021, a day later than Ukraine, has a worse result than Ukraine in this indicator of the index.
Furthermore, the issue wasn’t only the vaccine approval process per se but also its distribution. ensure the first and second stages of vaccination, 347 mobile teams are needed, according to the Public Health Center. In the future, it is planned to create a total of about six hundred such teams. All these steps take time, as workers involved in vaccination must first undergo special training from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation. In times of the pandemic, the time costs are higher, and lags are, as a result, very costly.
The fight against the virus is also undermined by low support for vaccination among the Ukrainian population. According to a survey conducted by the National Kharkiv Institute of Sociological Research, as of December 2020, only 21 percent of Ukrainians wanted to be vaccinated – 40 percent were against.
The average number of daily tests conducted in Ukraine per 100,000 population (as of March 31, 2021) – 0.51 – is one of the lowest in the world. This figure is 4 times lower than Britain, 14 times lower than Slovakia, and 11 times lower than Cyprus. According to the Index, only India and Brazil test less than Ukraine. Furthermore, it is likely because of the lack of testing that Ukraine hasn’t made headlines as India 2.0. By now, every Ukrainian knows someone who died of COVID, or at least had it once, so the numbers are very misleading.
In contrast, countries such as South Korea and UAE enforced drive-through testing. Abu Dhabi Health Services (SEHA) and Abu Dhabi Department of Health put in place drive through testing services to stop the spread, and testing every two weeks has been encouraged.
Regarding intensive care bed capacity, Ukraine here is also at the rock bottom of the ranking. Before the start of the pandemic, there were 4.1 beds per 100 thousand population in Ukraine. For comparison, Poland had 10.1, and Russia – 8.3.
Ukraine has a lot to learn from other countries, and our Index is a clear indication that the Indian pandemic scenario is quite real for Ukraine if we do not solve the fundamental problems in the health system, and learn to plan for the future better.
Originally published here.