Earlier this year, Bill Gates told a group of people gathered for a discussion about epidemics (hosted by the Massachusetts Medical Society and the New England Journal of Medicine) – something he’s done before– that should a deadly new disease spring up and spread around the globe, we’d be in serious trouble. Essentially, he said, we’re not ready. (This is the man that loves vaccines, knowing full well they will kill some people so I’m surprised this wasn’t a plug for some new vaccine. Or maybe it was.)
According to Gates, the likelihood that a disease able to wipe out millions will appear continues to rise. “New pathogens emerge all the time as the world population increases and humanity encroaches on wild environments. It’s becoming easier and easier for individual people or small groups to create weaponized diseases that could spread like wildfire around the globe.” 1 Or, perhaps a “small non-state actor” could build an even deadlier form of smallpox, in a lab.
That day, Gates presented a simulation by the Institute for Disease Modeling that found that a new type of flu like the one that killed 50 million people in the 1918 pandemic might now be able to kill 30 million people within six months and that the disease that would take us by surprise would likely to be one that we’d see for the first time at the start of an outbreak. Check out the simulation below.
What’s different about us now is how global of a society we are. The pandemic of 1918 didn’t have the ease of transatlanic flight.
Gates’ contention is that if you were to tell the world’s governments that weapons that could kill 30 million people were under construction right now, there’d be a sense of urgency about preparing for the threat. And that’s exactly what we have now only it’s biological. In fact, at one point the military played a simulated war game against a smallpox pandemic and lost.
But he also reminded the crowd that we are getting better at rapidly diagnosing illness and coming up with vaccines. Which is likely why he also thought militaries and governments should have better communication to not only coordinate responses, but “enlist the help of the private sector when it comes to developing technology and tools to fight an emerging deadly disease.”
And maybe even force inoculations on people? One never can tell what Bill Gates ultimate goal is.