COVID-19 Research Series

Hospital critical and intensive care capacity are among the scarcest resources during the current global pandemic. As infection rates and hospitalizations have risen around the world, hospitals from Italy to the Bay area have reported shortages in critical care bed capacity.

An estimated 5% of the US population is projected to be hospitalized with COVID-19, and 40% of cases are projected to require ICU beds. Access to critical care can have important consequences on health outcomes. A number of studies, including Valley et al. (2015) and Capuzzo et al. (2014), find a 20 to 37 percent reduction in hospital mortality for patients with serious prognoses that have access to critical care vs. general ward. 

Y Analytics compiled research and data from PLOS One, BMC Critical Care, ATS Journals, the Society of Critical Care Medicine, the World Bank, and more to create an aggregated listing of critical care bed capacity by country for multiple countries. 

Unsurprisingly, high-income countries like the United States and Germany have some of the highest critical care bed capacity at 25 or more beds per 100,000 people, while low-income countries like Kenya and Uganda have fewer than 1 bed per 100,000 people. This finding is also reflected in Rhodes et al. (2012), which find that critical care bed capacity is significantly correlated with GDP per capita in Europe. Prin et al. (2012) also find that increased per-capita health expenditures are associated with increased delivery of critical care services. Within countries, critical care capacity tend to be concentrated in urban areas. 70% of Brazil’s ICUs are located in the richest South/Southeast regions of the country. In the United States, 91% of acute care beds and 94% of ICU beds are in metropolitan hospitals.

The inequity in bed capacity points to the risk many low-income countries and rural communities face as infections continue to spread globally, and the importance of prevention measures to ensure local health systems are not overburdened with critical hospitalizations.

Critical Care Bed Capacity by Country

1  Figures compiled across multiple sources that report figures for countries in different years. “ICU beds” and “Critical care beds” are used interchangeably in these studies.  


Society of Critical Care Medicine (2020)

Rhodes et al. (2012)

Estenssoro et al. (2012) 

McCarthy (2020)

Fowler et al. (2015)

Valley et al. (2015)

Capuzzo et al. (2014)

Fitzgerald (2020)

Ameryoun et al. (2011)

Oliveres (2020)

Okech et al. (2015)

Kwizera et al. (2012)

Kabara (2015)

Prin et al. (2012)

Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society (2014)

World Bank (2020)

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