Bill Gates warned of a coronavirus-like epidemic back in 2015

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Gates offered a multifaceted plan to tackle epidemics on a global-scale

During a 2015 Ted Talk, Bill Gates said, if anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it is most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war—not missiles, but microbes.

The American philanthropist and co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation warned viewers, towards the end of the Ebola epidemic, why the world is not prepared for another outbreak. 

He proposed a multivariate plan involving investing in the medical sector and combining that sector with the military in order to create a potent epidemic response system, an article on the World Economic Forum read.

Gates claimed that the excess investment in nuclear deterrents diverts necessary resources away from establishing an effective system for stopping an epidemic.  

Between 2014 and 2016, the Ebola epidemic hit West African particularly hard. Globally, the outbreak infected more than 28,000 people, and killed more than 11,000.

Gates criticized the fact that there was not a large number of epidemiologists or medical teams with adequate training or preparation to look at diagnostics and treatment approaches. However, it was their “heroic work” that helped contain the virus. 

“Next time, we might not be so lucky. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they are infectious that they get on a plane, or they go to a market,” he said.

These are chilling words to recall, as much of the world is hunkered down at home to avoid catching and spreading the coronavirus. 

Gates suggested that it is possible to develop a effective response system using technology like cell phones to disseminate information to people quickly and using satellite maps to determine migration trends. 

He also proposed that advances in biotechnology could also dramatically decrease the time it takes to reverse the disease in terms of vaccines and therapeutics, and this technology is already being deployed in the current coronavirus pandemic.

However, these tools must be components of a global health system, and epidemic preparedness should be similar to that of a war, with full-time workers and readily available reserves. 

To deal with the next epidemic, Gates then suggested strong health systems in poor countries. He also advised the establishment of a medical reserve corps made up of people with training and expertise, and pairing the medical experts with the military to take advantage of the military’s swiftness and logistical ability. 

Another recommendation was to do simulations, or “germ games” to test how well global leaders are prepared, and to invest in research and development in area of vaccines and diagnostics. Crucial factors such as primary healthcare would help to reduce global health equity. 

“If there is one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic,” Gates said in closing, “it is that it can serve as an early warning, a wake-up call, to get ready.”

The Covid-19 coronavirus has spread around the world, claiming the lives over 10,000, with more than 245,000 infected to date, according to worldometers.