Bill Gates is making a plea for people to get prepared for a global flu epidemic. Gates said that when he was younger the primary fear was thermonuclear war and millions of dollars was spent on that fear. However, very little money has been spent to prepare for any type of epidemic. Gates said we should be focusing on microbes, not missiles.
Gates believes that the best way to handle a war on epidemics is to prepare for war, such as NATO’s war games to ensure soldiers are well-trained and ready. The community of global health needs to strengthen ways of early detection, there needs to be a health corps reserve, civilians can join, to transfer to the front lines of an epidemic, military personnel should pair up with medical personnel, and the health sector needs to run simulations to be best prepared. The amount of money that needs to be spent to be prepared is much more than the $3 trillion it would cost the global economy hit by an epidemic. It is not necessary to panic but time is of the essence, according to Gates.
Gates spoke at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference, saying the world must get ready for the next major global crisis. Ebola is now under control, but next time could be worse. Gates said that there is plenty of technology that could contain a virus. Mobile phone proliferation means people can easily report disease locations, while satellite mapping can show where the problems are located to be able to best start a plan to keep them isolated. Vaccines can also be developed much faster, however, Gates is disappointed in the current flu vaccine issues. It seems flu vaccines are not effective enough and do not cover enough strains of the flu.
When the Ebola crisis hit, IBM gave tracking systems to authorities so detailed maps could be generated of the outbreaks learned about through text messages. The Gates Foundation was put together with his wife to tackle issues just like this. To solve issues through the help of technology. For example, the protective gear needed during the Ebola crisis would become hot inside for the workers. The Gates Foundation sent ice-pack lined vests to keep doctors and nurses cool while wearing the protective gear.
Gates showed an Ebola hospital mock-up. This was to demonstrate what life was like for the healthcare workers inside the hospitals. He had delegates try on the protective suits, perform specific duties and then remove the protective gear without letting any part of the outside of the suit touch the skin. Healthcare workers make it look easier than it actually is to do.
There needs to be stronger healthcare in poorer countries and it needs to be a long-term and ongoing system. Economically sound countries need to prepare for the next epidemic. How will supplies get to the poorer countries, will there be designated hospitals in richer countries, what if the next epidemic is airborne? This is an expansion from what was learned from the Ebola epidemic, which served as a warning of what is to come.
Gates warns that the next epidemic could be more infectious and affect 10 million people. Gates predicts a highly contagious epidemic will surface within 20 years. The system failed for Ebola as 10,000 lives were lost and the system is not even close to being prepared for what is to come. The last simulation of a serious epidemic in the United States was in 2001. A “global warning and response system” needs to be put into place to handle epidemics. This system would enable the entire world to manage a naturally occurring epidemic, as well as bioterrorism. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a “Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network” that is understaffed and underfunded, however, it can be a start to expansion.
Gates presented a warning and response system blueprint. He believes it should be run by a global unit or institution, created by the United Nations. This global institution has to have the authority and funding necessary to be effective at dealing with epidemics. It also has to be able to make decisions quickly and globally. Gates also believes in expanding funding on more reliable disease-surveillance and lab testing capacities in poor countries. This is where another epidemic is likely to start to there should be a more prepared focus in this area. The world should be collectively focused on microbes, not missiles.
By Jeanette Smith