Coronavirus Global situation

Asian economies lead ranking of most efficient healthcare systems

Visitors receive PCR tests for Covid-19 at a Community Testing Centre in Hong Kong on Dec 12, 2020.
Visitors receive PCR tests for Covid-19 at a Community Testing Centre in Hong Kong on Dec 12, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

HONG KONG • As a pandemic ravaged the world, Asian economies led by Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan topped a ranking of most efficient healthcare systems.

The Bloomberg Health-Efficiency Index, first conducted in 2013, tracks life expectancy and medical spending to determine which healthcare systems have the best outcomes.

This year's results include the impact of Covid-19 on mortality and gross domestic product (GDP) in 57 of the world's largest economies.

These measures helped many Asian territories improve their standing on the list since their generally aggressive coronavirus responses kept cases and deaths relatively low.

Brazil and Russia joined the United States in the bottom tier, reflecting relatively low life expectancies along with high Covid-19 mortality and weaker economic outlooks.

"Efficient health systems are often in places that have limited natural resources and therefore prioritise policies that rely on people potential," said Professor Pisonthi Chongtrakul in the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

"Success in combating Covid-19 has come in places that coordinated among government bodies and were willing to let health experts call the shots, which helped create a clarity of public messaging," he said.

To measure efficiency during the pandemic, two adjustments were made to the original ranking formula: The 2020 table includes the one-year change in GDP based on an October forecast by the International Monetary Fund, as well as the Covid-19 toll on each economy.

For example, a 2020 GDP contraction of 6 per cent led to a six point subtraction from the total score, while a death toll or new confirmed cases of 100,000 deducted 11.5 points.

The US ranks among the bottom 10 per cent under this method as well as the formula used before Covid-19, which simply measured spending against life expectancy. America's low scores reflect a middling average lifespan, the world's biggest outlays on medical care, along with the largest Covid-19 caseload.

Using the formula adjusted for the pandemic, eight of the world's 10 most efficient health systems are in Asia-Pacific.

Singapore and Hong Kong top the list, while Taiwan, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand leapfrogged many territories based on their Covid-19 statistics.

"The pandemic has underscored the fact that economic health is dependent on public health, which is in turn dependent on adequate public spending on health," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, the World Health Organisation's South-east Asia director, in a report last Saturday.

"In ordinary times, every dollar invested in health yields an average return of between US$2 and US$4, which can be up to 20 times higher in low-and middle-income countries," Dr Singh said.

India does not meet the minimum metrics, though it is among the nations hardest hit by the pandemic.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 19, 2020, with the headline 'Asian economies lead ranking of most efficient healthcare systems'. Subscribe