Bill Gates believes that the Ebola epidemic—which has killed 10,000 people around the world—might be minuscule in comparison to the impact of a future disease. If the world does not put a focus on diseases and prevention, Gates argues, the next virus that breaks out could affect even more people. “Next time we might not be so lucky,” Gates said at TED on March 15, 2015.
Gates supported his TED speech with an opinion piece written for The New York Times and a paper written for The New England Journal of Medicine. Also supporting his argument was an African hospital simulation set up at the venue of his TED talk. Those who participated in the recreated experiment had to experience the difficulties of being a healthcare worker treating Ebola patients, including distributing “medicine” to “patients” in protective suits that proved hard to move around in.
Gates thinks that the fight against viral diseases should be like fighting a war, citing a time as a child when he considered nuclear weapons to be the biggest threat to the earth. Now, he says, we need to “fight not missiles but microbes.”
“This should absolutely be a priority,” Gates said. “We need to get going because time is not on our side.” Gates says that the world’s governments should consider spending more money on disease prevention as an epidemic is “by far the most likely” thing that could kill more than 10 million people. It has happened before, with the 1918 Spanish flu killing 33.3 million people in just the duration of one year.
Gates has some ideas on preventing this from happening again, including “strengthening poor countries’ health systems” and “investing in disease surveillance.”
“To begin with, most poor countries, where a natural epidemic is most likely to start, have no systematic disease surveillance in place,” Gates points out in his New York Times op-ed piece. With the Ebola epidemic, he argues, “trained personnel should have flooded the affected countries within days. Instead it took months.” If the world does not learn from mistakes of the past, we could be in for a dangerous future.
– Melissa Binns