In a TED Talk premised by the importance of sophisticated pathogen containment, Microsoft magnate Bill Gates warned, “the world is simply not prepared to deal with a disease—an especially virulent flu, for example—that infects large numbers of people very quickly. Of all the things that could kill 10 million people or more, by far the most likely is an epidemic.”
These comments were made five years ago in reaction to the Ebola outbreak that took the lives of more than 10,000 Africans back in 2015. Virtually every element of Gate’s global censure had been neglected in the years leading to our current pandemic— animated by a fast-acting coronavirus strain called, SARS-CoV-2.
While virologists work tirelessly to develop efficient testing methods and targeted therapeutics, our national defense survives on recruiting, training, and equipping the frontline with cutting-edge tools to counteract speedy transmission rates.
Gates did not believe that the world was adequately prepared to address dramatic viral outbreaks five years ago and he appears to have been correct.
Similarly, Dr. Li Wenliang, the 34-year-old ophthalmologist who alerted the medical community in Wuhan about the novel coronavirus on December 30, died of the infection before his many warnings were taken seriously. When first responders are neither properly protected or adhered to, the public suffers.
“The more I learn about what it takes to respond to an epidemic, the more impressed I am by the health workers who have been risking their lives to care for the sick. Just putting on a protective suit is a huge undertaking. Once it’s on, it’s hard to hear what anyone else is saying, and you start to sweat after just a few minutes,” Gates explained.
It’s not just our technology that’s outdated. We’ve learned a lot about how intricately the immune system operates in the years following the first successful vaccine back in 1796. There are so many contributing factors from the diet, the diversity of our gut microbes and our mental well-being that fortify our ability to reject harmful foreign bodies.
Every major medical breakthrough, whether informational or clinical, begins with sufficient resourcing. To this Gates remarks, “No one could predict what the chance of a new virus emerging was,” Gates wrote. “However we did know it would happen at some point either with the flu or some other respiratory virus. There was almost no funding.”We need to have the ability to scale up diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines very rapidly. The technologies exist to do this well if the right investments are made. … [T]hat needs to be funded at a higher level to have the standby manufacturing capacity for the world.”
The good news is, humans are incredibly adaptive and at our core, the majority of us are motivated by the well being of others. As of March 22, following frequent testing and a national shutdown, China is enduring very few new cases a day. If we employ similar tactics Gates believes we can expect similar results in around six to ten weeks time.
We all have a role to play in mitigating the spread of this pandemic as well as the economic downturn affecting gig and industry workers currently, and geared to ravage corporate ecosystems in the near future.
Be sure to refer to our coverage of organizations established to help struggling workers during this indefinite emergency window.
“Our foundation is working with all the groups who make diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines to make sure the right efforts are prioritized,” Gates concluded in a media release this week. “We want to make sure all countries get access to these tools. We donated $100M in February for a variety of things and we will be doing more. One priority is to make sure that there is enough manufacturing capacity for therapeutics and vaccines. We have other efforts like our education group working to make sure the online resources for students are as helpful as they can be.”