Humans have a spotty track record with epidemic diseases. Virologists and other health professionals have worked wonders in the last century to prevent mass outbreaks. There’s a flip-side to that survival rate, though: booming global populations. Experts feel like the time is right for a massive global pandemic.
Bill Gates, in his role as a philanthropist, is turning his sights from computer viruses to actual viruses. He spoke Friday at a talk about epidemics hosted by the Massachusetts Medical Society and the New England Journal of Medicine. His message was not optimistic.
“Gates acknowledged that he’s usually the optimist in the room,” Business Insider writes, “reminding people that we’re lifting children out of poverty around the globe and getting better at eliminating diseases like polio and malaria.”
“There’s one area though where the world isn’t making much progress,” Gates said, “and that’s pandemic preparedness.”
There are a myriad of reasons for this fear. The flu continues to evolve. Bacteria and the so-called super-bugs outpace our ability to fight them. People around the globe seem intent on weaponizing diseases. The latest concern is the exposure of old contagions exposed by the melting ice in the polar regions for which humans may have no natural immunity.
“According to Gates,” BI writes, “a small non-state actor could build an even deadlier form of smallpox in a lab.”
Even the less sadistic spread of disease is accelerated by our globe-hopping habits. “Think of the number of people who leave New York City every day and go all over the world — we’re an interconnected world,” Melinda Gates said of the threat of rapid transmission.
“Gates presented a simulation by the Institute for Disease Modeling that found that a new flu like the one that killed 50 million people in the 1918 pandemic would now most likely kill 30 million people within six months,” BI writes.
Flu is something we know how to fight. Gates, and others, fear the next big disease may be one we’ve never seen before.
“In the case of biological threats, that sense of urgency is lacking,” Gates said. “The world needs to prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war.”
The developed world is better suited for such a catastrophe, of course. Yet the societal collapse that would happen in under-developed regions could compound the problem.
So what’s the solution? We need to have more communication. Militaries need to train for disease outbreaks like they train for war, including simulations. Governments need to organize around the available resources in the private sector to make use of all available assets.