Bill Gates, Microsoft founder and philanthropist, had a warning in a 2015 TED Talk when he spoke about the greatest global threat.
It was not climate change or the big fear he said he remembered having as a kid:
“When I was a kid, the disaster we worried about most was a nuclear war,” Gates said. “That’s why we had a barrel like this down in our basement, filled with cans of food and water. When the nuclear attack came, we were supposed to go downstairs, hunker down, and eat out of that barrel.”
“Today the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn’t look like this,” Gates said. “Instead, it looks like this. If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war.”
“Not missiles, but microbes,” Gates said. “Now, part of the reason for this is that we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.”
Gates cited the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014, which he said killed so many because no system was in place to combat this kind of infectious disease.
And he called out the World Health Organization, the global organization that is on the frontlines of the current coronavirus outbreak, comparing it the to the cast of a thriller movie: “There’s a group of handsome epidemiologists ready to go, they move in, they save the day, but that’s just pure Hollywood.”
“The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola,” Gates wrote, citing the 10,000 death toll from the disease.
So far, 8,732 people have died from coronavirus around the globe, according to Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.
Gates said Ebola could have been much worse except for the “heroic work” of health care workers, the virus was not airborne, and third, it didn’t spread to densely populated urban areas.
“So next time, we might not be so lucky,” Gates wrote, advocating in his Ted Talk for preparedness in the same way the military is ready for war at any given moment in time.
Gates also called for helping third world countries improve their health infrastructure, building a “medical reserve corps,” and staging “germ war” games as has been done in the past, “and it didn’t go so well,” Gates said.
Gates, a billionaire, said he did not know how much his ideas would cost, but he claimed it would be less than the kind of viral nightmare he envisioned.
“So I think this should absolutely be a priority,” Gates wrote. “There’s no need to panic.”
“We don’t have to hoard cans of spaghetti or go down into the basement,” Gates said. “But we need to get going, because time is not on our side.”
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