Health and Wellness

Bill Gates in 2018: The world needs to prepare for pandemics just like war

Bill Gates
Lacy O'Toole | CNBC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials continue to grapple with the coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 132 people in China and sickened 6,100 worldwide. And back in 2018, Billionaire Bill Gates gave a warning that the world wasn't prepared for pandemics, which should "concern us all."

Speaking at an event hosted by Massachusetts Medical Society and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on April 27, 2018, Gates said he believed "the world needs to prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war."

"This preparation includes staging simulations, war games and preparedness exercises so that we can better understand how diseases will spread and how to deal with responses such as quarantine and communications to minimize panic," Gates said.

Pandemics occur when epidemics spread between countries. And though coronavirus is not considered a pandemic, the spread of such viruses is a serious concern.

Gates noted that while a 2009 outbreak of H1N1 influenza (dubbed the swine flu) wasn't as lethal as people initially feared, it did call attention to the fact that the world doesn't have a coordinated approach to help with early detection and spread of pandemics.

"The Ebola epidemic in West Africa four years ago was another wake up call, as the number of confirmed cases climbed, the death toll mounted, and local health systems collapsed. Again, the world was much too slow to respond," he said of the 2014-2016 epidemic, which killed 11,000 and infected more than 28,000. Eleven people were treated for Ebola in the United States during that epidemic, according to the CDC.

Gates also compared future deadly global pandemics to a new type of "military weapon."

Gates recalled that at the 2017 Munich Security Conference he "asked world leaders to imagine that somewhere in the world a new weapon exists or could emerge that is capable of killing millions of people, bringing economies to a standstill, and casting nations into chaos.

"If it were a military weapon, the response would be to do everything possible to develop countermeasures," he said at the NEJM event, adding that a "sense of urgency is lacking" when it comes to biologic threats.

This should concern everyone said Gates, "because history has taught us there will be another deadly global pandemic.

"We can't predict when, but given the continual emergence of new pathogens, the increasing risk of a bioterror attack, and the ever-increasing connectedness of our world, there is a significant probability that a large and lethal modern-day pandemic will occur in our lifetime," Gates said.

To be better prepared, Gates said world leaders need to invest in approaches such as antiviral drugs and antibody therapies that can be stockpiled or rapidly manufactured to the spread of these future diseases.

On Sunday, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it is donating $10 million in "emergency funds and corresponding technical support to help frontline responders in China and Africa accelerate their efforts to contain the global spread of 2019-nCoV," as coronavirus is officially known, according to the foundation's website.

"We are deeply concerned about the development of the current epidemic and express our high respect to those who are fighting on the front lines," Yinuo Li, director of the Gates Foundation China said in a statement to China Daily.

On Monday, U.S. health officials announced they are currently monitoring 110 people across 26 states for the coronavirus, including five people who contracted it China and then traveled to the US.

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