Bill Gates Warns: The World Is Not Prepared For Epidemics

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed $US50 million to fight Ebola.

That’s a lot of money, but not when you consider what Bill Gates is spending to fight the preventable and treatable disease malaria: $US200 million this year, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Malaria struck down 207 million people in 2012 and killed 627,000, many of them also in West Africa, where Ebola has reached epidemic proportions (over 13,000 cases and growing by thousands a week, the CDC reports).

Gates is working to eradicate malaria. So he was in New Orleans at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene conference this week to talk about those efforts. Naturally the talk at the conference quickly turned to his thoughts on Ebola.

Gates said he views this outbreak as a warning that the world needs to get its act together to prevent something even more deadly from spreading.

The world as a whole doesn’t have the preparedness for epidemics, and we’ve had a few flu scares that got us to do some minor things, but not enough.

If this thing had been twice as transmissive, we’d be in a lot of trouble, and there are agents that have a real chance of coming on in the next several decades that are far more transmissive than this is. What’s to stop some form of SARS showing up?

The Gates foundation is trying to tackle some of that. His efforts are going toward creating experimental drugs for Ebola. He’s also having engineers come up with ways to cool protective suits so people in warm areas of the world like West Africa can wear them longer.

But he thinks the world could do things far better. Gates wants to see tools developed that do better disease surveillance, tracking how illness spreads, which he says is “a very doable thing” and for a relatively low cost of “literally for hundreds of millions, not billions, of dollars a year.”

He also wants to speed up approval of new drugs during epidemics, such as eliminating the placebo testing portion of clinical trials.

Ultimately he wants the Ebola outbreak to teach us how to react against something even more dangerous.

“The fundamental lesson shouldn’t be about who did what quarantine when. That’s rounding error stuff compared to true preparedness for a seriously transmissive epidemic.”

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