The world is rapidly heading towards globalization with advancements in technology and with the given pace, it is also susceptible to pandemics. This is what Bill Gates believes, and he is of the opinion that with the increasing mobility, there’s a significant probability of a new flu epidemic against which our society is unprepared.
Speaking at a discussion about epidemics organized by Massachusetts Medical Society and the New England Journal of Medicine, the billionaire philanthropist said that the world and the U.S., in particular, is falling behind in “pandemic preparedness”. He spoke about the possibility of new flu that could kill more than 30 million people in just six months.
Gates said that he’s super-optimist and believes that life keeps getting better for most people in the world through new immunization and interventions that are helping in eradicating diseases like polio and malaria. However, "there's one area though where the world isn't making much progress," Gates said, "and that's pandemic preparedness."
He pointed out the risk of future pandemics taking the example of an outbreak of Swine Flu in 2009 and the Ebola epidemic, where the U.S. and world were too slow to respond. With the ease of developing biological weapons of mass destruction, Gates fears that the world is at a risk of a bioterror attack.
Gates showed a simulation developed by the Institute of Disease Modelling which predicted that the new flu similar to the one in the 1918 pandemic that wiped out 50 million people, could kill nearly 33 million people worldwide in just six months.
He said that the world needs to prepare for pandemics in a way that military prepares for a war. "In the case of biological threats, that sense of urgency is lacking," he said.
While the government, philanthropic funders and people in the private sectors are already putting efforts in the development of a universally accessible flu vaccine, Gates believes that the preparedness isn’t enough.
“The next threat may not be a flu at all. More than likely, it will be an unknown pathogen that we see for the first time during an outbreak, as was the case with SARS, MERS, and other recently-discovered infectious diseases,” Gates said.
He thinks that in order to pro-actively fight against the next deadly pandemic, the world needs better tools, early detection system and a global response system. And, the US should lead in developing the responsive pandemic preparedness for the world.
“We need to invest in other approaches like antiviral drugs and antibody therapies that can be stockpiled or rapidly manufactured to stop the spread of pandemic diseases or treat people who have been exposed,” he said.
Gates also highlighted some of the recent medical advances happening globally that could someday help in preventing the spread of pandemic diseases.
Advances such as the recent development of a point-of-care diagnostic test that utilizes the power of CRISPR to detect the evidence of a pathogen using paper strips similar to a pregnancy test. In addition, advances in monoclonal antibody therapies have led to the development of products for Cancer and Ebola-infected patients.
The Microsoft co-founder concluded his speech saying that there is a roadmap lying in the history of such collective efforts and we must find it in order to develop efficient pandemic preparedness and response system.