Bill Gates Warned Us of the Next Pandemic in His 2015 TED Talk

His predictions were eerily on point.
Fabienne Lang
Bill Gates giving his 2015 TED Talk TED Talk/YouTube

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, can predict the future.

Well, sort of. In 2015, he gave a TED Talk where he underlined how the next big disaster to strike humanity would be due to microbes, and not a nuclear war. "If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus," he explained. Moreover, Gates stated that once this viral disaster hit, we'd be massively underprepared for it.

Unfortunately for us, he was right. More than a year later, we're still battling Covid-19 to varying degrees of success around the globe. We were indeed massively underprepared. 

"Not missiles, but microbes"

Gates pointed out that globally we've invested a lot of resources in warfare planning and prevention. In fact, global defense spending reached a staggering $1.83 trillion in 2020. However, pre-Covid, we invested very little in preparing for a global epidemic.

The world's nations don't exactly have teams of epidemiologists ready to hit the ground running to save the Earth's population, as Gates pointed out. Comparing this to the world's armies that are ready to deploy at any given moment in case of war against other humans, we in fact have very little support. 

This fact rang all too true as we watched the coronavirus spread around the world at lightning-fast speed, infecting hundreds of thousands of people. Resources were spread incredibly thin. Doctors and nurses went without PPE, ventilators were in short supply, and hospitals were overwhelmed as they ran out of space to treat patients. 

The next pandemic

More than a year after the WHO declared the COVID-19 pandemic a global pandemic, nearly 150 million people have become sick worldwide, and more than 3 million have died. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris told United Nations members in April 2021 that it's time to start thinking about how to prepare for the next pandemic.

We're definitely more prepared than we were when Gates spoke in 2015. The scientific community came together and developed numerous life-saving vaccines, the first of which was given in December 2020.

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But we still have a long way to go. John N. Nkengasong, first Director of the Africa CDC, points out that the next pandemic will require a deep dive into the failures of 2019 and 2020. He notes that the divide between politics and public health complicated global cooperation to effectively fight the pandemic and rescue the world from the global economic impact. Understanding what went wrong here, and working toward improving the architecture of health-security governance will be key. 

Further, he explains, "strengthening global and regional infrastructure and novel platforms for the development and distribution of vaccines, diagnostics and therapy is vital." And of course, we must do a better job of investing in our frontline responders and community healthcare workers. 

It's disheartening to see just how accurate Gates was back in 2015. That said with current advances in technology and science, the world is coming together to work on the current pandemic. Additionally, huge numbers of infected people are in fact recovering from the virus and getting vaccinated.

There's hope, but we must keep this past in mind as we prepare for a safer future.