“Just as World War II was the defining event for our parents’ generation, the coronavirus pandemic we are living through right now will define ours,” said Bill Gates in his Foundation’s annual address. The Microsoft founder compared the Covid-19 pandemic with a World War both in terms of the scale of its devastation and the impact he thinks it will have on future generations. He also went on to outline the specific measures he thinks need to be taken to prevent further pandemic outbreaks.
The software billionaire covered these and other topics in the just-released annual letter of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the subsequent interview with MSNBC.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is famous for a lot of things – from being the second-largest private charity organization to helping drive innovation and philanthropy around the world. As such, the Foundation’s annual letters and Gate’s occasional interviews and TED Talks are well-known for offering crucial insight into the risks in our future.
One of the most infamous examples of that is Gate’s 2015 TED Talk where he warned about the incoming coronavirus pandemic so explicitly as if he had come back from the future. So, what else did the 4th wealthiest person in the world warn us about in his recent letter and interview?
The world’s wealthiest nations should invest tens of billions of dollars for pandemic preparedness now to prevent future outbreaks.
According to Gates, investing now to prevent future pandemics is the smartest way for wealthy nations to save both lives and money in the long run. He referenced the incalculable amount of money nations around the world lost in 2020 due to the loss of both life and productivity. He compared that to the much smaller amount that could have been invested beforehand to prevent all that loss.
Based on that, Gates went on to elaborate that the same can be applied for the future and if we invest now we can save future lives and financial collapses.
“Well, the great thing is that the tens of billions required for all that preparedness [is that] it’s the insurance policy that avoids you losing tens of trillions like we are globally right now and so it’s quite a bargain.”
What are the prevention measures Gates suggests?
One of Gate’s ideas is the development of well-staffed international “mega-diagnostic platforms” that would be able to test ~20% of the global population per week in case of a future outbreak.
The billionaire and philanthropist also urges for the creation of an online global alert system that can connect health practitioners from across the globe. This would allow for a much more effective sharing of data and lab samples for sequencing. This can help us detect highly detectable pathogens much sooner and easier before it could turn into a pandemic.
Gates also envisioned the formation of an international team of “infectious-disease first responders” that would be dispatched to sights of emerging pathogens to deal with the problem in its infancy. According to him, the team should be made up of at least ~3,000 experts to ensure preparedness for the worst possible eventualities.
As to what these experts would do in their “off time”, Gates suggests that they could be “running germ games” similarly to military experts who run war games to practice and analyze the potential risks and responsiveness of future wars/pandemics.
The added benefits of preparedness
To further emphasize the importance of such measures, Gates pointed out that they are more than just an insurance – they would also provide invaluable research. According to him, focusing more on medicine and vaccine development, creating logistics and distribution facilities and organizations can have the added benefit of leading to more innovation and healthcare improvements, separate from the anti-pandemic efforts.
He also predicted that it would take ~5 years for scientists to figure out how to create and perfect new monoclonal antibody treatments like the current drugs of Regeneron and Eli Lily which proved effective against Covid-19. Gates pointed out that this could also improve our advances in the creation of new and better nRNA vaccines but only if the world would “double down on investments in R&D,” he wrote in the Gate’s Foundation letter.
“To prevent the hardship of this last year from happening again, pandemic preparedness must be taken as seriously as we take the threat of war,” Gates went on to write.
The current struggle is far from over
Gates didn’t only talk about the future, however. He pointed out that while now was the time for recovery, there’s still a lot to be done about the development and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been a major investor in the development of both the Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines, as well as in other Covid-related research. And while Gates was criticized for urging Oxford University to sell their exclusive rights to their vaccine to AstraZeneca instead of just donating them, the Gates Foundation has defended the decision, saying that it was necessary in order to help make the AstraZeneca products “widely available at an affordable price.”
Future TED Talks?
In Gate’s interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber, the host also mentioned Gate’s 2015 pandemic TED Talk and asked him what he would talk about if he was to do another TED Talk again. Gates answered by saying that his two main concerns at the moment are future pandemics and climate change. He also pointed out that his second-to-last TED Talk in 2010 was about climate change so he would probably talk about that again if and when he had the chance.