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Forget Marvel, Bill Gates says these guys are the 'real-life Avengers'

Bill Gates
Ramin Talaie | Getty Images

With "Avengers: Endgame" blowing away all manner of box office records, this is certainly the perfect time to celebrate superheroes.

Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates took to his blog to capitalize on the theme by highlighting the inspiring scientists who deploy at a moment's notice to help stop disease outbreaks.

The billionaire philanthropist has dedicated the past several years to finding the most effective ways to save lives and stop the transmission of Ebola. In 2014, he announced a $50 million donation to support emergency efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

'The Avengers of virus hunters'

By Gates' definition, the "real-life Avengers" are "a heroic super group of scientists who deploy to outbreak zones to help local governments stop infectious diseases," he wrote in the blog post.

(Even Marvel Avenger fans may find it hard to argue with that.)

These virus hunters make up the U.K. Public Health Rapid Support Team (RST), a group that's jointly run by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Public Health England.

"As soon as it becomes clear that an outbreak is underway, the local — or, in rare cases, the World Health Organization — requests the help of the RST," Gates explains.

"Not every team member is needed for every outbreak," he says. "Sometimes you need an epidemiologist and a data scientist, but not a microbiologist — so the first step is to identify who needs to go."

As of July 2018, the team has taken part in nine deployments in six countries.

Meet the heroes 

The RST isn't a group that arrives at a scene equipped with all the answers. Ultimately, their goal is to work themselves out of a job, which is a pretty admirable mission.

All of them are prodding us to action. We hope they do the same for you, because that's how the world gets better.
Bill and Melinda Gates

In a video Gates recently tweeted, he introduces the RST superheroes:

1. The Chief
As director of the RST, Daniel Bausch's role is to guide his team in responding to infectious diseases in low- and middle-income countries.

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"When an outbreak happens, our goal is to push a team out into the field within 48 hours," he says in the video.

2. The Tactician
Katie Carmichael runs operations and deployment for the RST. "We've been deployed to cholera in various places, plagues in Madagascar, Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lassa fever in Nigeria and diphtheria outbreaks in Bangladesh," she says.

3. The Detective
As the RST's epidemiologist, Oliver Le Polain studies human interactions relevant to the transmissions of infectious diseases. "People live in cities, people go to healthcare facilities, people take taxis, people go to a restaurants — so they could potentially have been to many different places before being notified and detected while they were unwell," he explains.

4. The Virologist
Microbiologist Ben Gannon is an expert in diagnostics and laboratory capabilities concerning outbreaks. In 2017, after a massive mudslide in Sierra Leone, Gannon played a major role in installing a laboratory in their primary hospital. He and his team equipped the lab with cholera, salmonella and dysentery disease diagnostics.

Not all superheroes wear capes and diffuse bombs

"It's hard for me to overstate how brave people who willingly put themselves at the frontlines of where the outbreaks are, especially when you're up against an enemy you haven't seen before," says Gates.

The appeal of silver screen superheroes is undeniable, but it's important to be reminded of all the real-life world defenders — living or dead. (In addition to the RST, Gates keeps a running list of his own superheroes here.)

As Gates and his wife Melinda wrote in their 2019 annual letter of the events and acts of heroism that surprised them most:  "Some worry us. Others inspire us. All of them are prodding us to action. We hope they do the same for you, because that's how the world gets better."

Tom Popomaronis is a commerce expert and proud Baltimore native. Currently, he is the Senior Director of Product Innovation at the Hawkins Group. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named a "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal.

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