This map of the world could save your life

You can learn a lot just by looking at a map. And looking at the world map prepared by a new public health organization could save many lives the next time an epidemic threatens to leap across borders and oceans.

The Prevent Epidemics color-coded map shows in green, yellow and red which countries have met a World Health Organization standard for epidemic preparedness and which haven’t. Citizens, leaders and public health teams can find information and suggestions on how to close their country’s readiness gaps when they click on the map online.

Color-coded map of Africa (State Dept./J. Maruszewski)
A portion of the Prevent Epidemics map, which is available in full at its website. (State Dept./J. Maruszewski)

Funded by philanthropic organizations, Prevent Epidemics and its map follow on from the Global Health Security Agenda that dozens of countries first embraced in 2014.

It employs a World Health Organization tool that measures how well countries are prepared to detect potential epidemics and prevent the spread, not just from Ebola and Zika but influenza, avian flu, cholera, yellow fever and measles.

Seventy-six countries have gone through external evaluations and more are in progress. Nine received passing grades, shown in green on the full map available online: Armenia, Australia, Belgium, Finland, Oman, Slovenia, South Korea, United Arab Emirates and the United States.

But even they have room for improvement, says Thomas Frieden, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He heads Resolve to Save Lives, the parent organization for the initiative. Resolve to Save Lives was launched in September 2017 with $225 million in funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since Ebola struck West Africa in 2014, “the world has made tremendous progress in assessing gaps in preventing epidemics, but it hasn’t made nearly enough progress in closing the [gaps] found,” Frieden told the Aspen Ideas Festival.

The external evaluations, which are voluntary, produce reams of data arrayed in charts and spreadsheets. The map “demystifies” the scores and spells out in plain language what countries need to work on, says Amanda McClelland, senior vice president of Prevent Epidemics.

Fifteen countries, shown in red, scored below 40 on a 100-point scale and were judged not ready. Forty-one, in yellow, scored between 40 and 79, and the nine in green passed with grades of 80 or higher. Most countries in yellow are clustered in Africa and Asia, and some are close to attaining green status, McClelland says. (Eleven other countries have been evaluated, but their grades haven’t been posted yet.) The map and the underlying information are intended to show people the most promising pathways to get to green.