New index shows disparity among regions in healthcare access and quality

| 23 May 2017

A much anticipated ranking of healthcare quality in 195 countries released last week showed the large inequity of access to good healthcare in regions across the world. Australia was the best performing of the APAC nations at no. 6. Japan just missed top 10, coming in at 11th, but virtually all the countries are in Western Europe, where almost every nation has some form of universal health coverage.

The top three nations in the Healthcare Access and Quality Index, published by medical journal The Lancet and said to be the first Index of its kind, were Andorra at no. 1, Iceland and Switzerland. The others rounding up top 10 were Sweden (4th), Norway (5th), Finland (7th), Spain (8th), Netherlands (9th) and Luxembourg (10th).

The next best-performing APAC nations on the list are Singapore (21st) and South Korea (23rd). India and Papua New Guinea were the lowest performing APAC entities at 154th and 163rd respectively. Other than Afghanistan, Haiti and Yemen, the 30 countries at the bottom of the ranking were all in sub-Saharan Africa, with the Central African Republic suffering the worst standards of all 195 countries at the bottom of the list.

"Despite improvements in healthcare quality and access over 25 years, inequality between the best and worst performing countries has grown," said Mr Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, and leader of a consortium of hundreds of contributing experts, as cited in an AFP report.

The Index, based on death rates for 32 diseases that can be avoided or effectively treated with proper medical care, also tracked progress in each nation compared to the benchmark year of 1990. Virtually all countries improved over that period, but many - especially in Africa and Oceania - fell further behind others in providing basic care for their citizens.

Mr Murray said the standard of primary care was lower in many nations than expected given levels of wealth and development.

The biggest underachievers in Asia included Indonesia, the Philippines, India and tiny Brunei, while in Africa it was Botswana, South Africa and Lesotho that had the most room for improvement. Regions with healthcare systems underperforming relative to wealth included Oceania, the Caribbean and Central Asia.

Among rich nations, the worst offender in this category was the United States, which tops the world in per capita healthcare expenditure by some measures. The UK and US came in unexpectedly low, at 30th and 35th.

"Overall, our results are a warning sign that heightened healthcare access and quality is not an inevitable product of increased development," Mr Murray said, as reported by AFP.

Between 1990 and 2015, countries that made the biggest improvements in delivering healthcare included South Korea, Turkey, Peru, China and the Maldives.

The full Index can be found here.