The Philippines is near the bottom in terms of health care spending among 20 emerging markets ranked according to their preparedness vis-a-vis the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), but the country’s young population and relatively lower exposure to air travel could be a comforting prospect in its fight against the pandemic.

In a March 31 report titled “Scorecard of EM COVID-19 Preparedness,” Washington-based global financial industry association Institute of International Finance (IIF) said “emerging markets, which were already struggling to grow, will suffer heavily” as the pandemic takes its toll on economies and livelihoods.

The IIF came up with a scorecard assessing the 20 countries from two angles reflecting how they would be able to handle domestic outbreaks—first, connectedness to the world and structural factors, such as the population’s age and population density; and second, their health care systems.

Data compiled by the IIF and Haver Analytics showed the Philippines only beat cellar-dweller India in terms of the number of hospital beds available for eve­ry 1,000 people. As of 2015, the Phili­ppines had only about one hospital bed for 1,000 people.

The Philippines also spent just $200 per capita for health care, trouncing only India, which spent less.

In the IIF scorecard, the emerging market with the most hospital beds was South Korea, while Singapore led in health care spending.

The 16 other emerging markets were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Indonesia, Hungary, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey.

“On the health care front, emerging markets score poorly. While some have a relatively high number of hospital beds, health care spending per ca­pita is an order of magnitude lower than in mature markets. Effective containment strategies may cap downside risk in some Asian emerging markets, but elsewhere outbreaks could be difficult to handle despite positive factors, such as young populations,” the IIF said.

As far as connectivity and population demographics were concerned, the IIF scorecard showed the Philippines could have the upper hand.

For one, the Philippines had little over 5 percent of its popu­lation age 65 and older—the age group deemed by medical experts as the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The Philippines ranked third lowest or just about 15 percent of its total population living in cities with more than one million people. This means urban agglomeration, or popu­lation density, as a potential risk factor is relatively lower for the country compared with other emerging markets.

In terms of connectivity measured in terms of the ratio of air passengers to the total population, the Philippines likewise was third lowest with nearly 50 percent of Filipinos having already traveled by air.

For the IIF, “having room to ease fiscal and monetary policies obviously helps fight the economic consequences of the virus but the health care response is the most critical aspect of the problem” among emerging markets like the Phili­ppines.

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