By Dan Marriott
The COVID-19 outbreak has seen the onset of a global health crisis. Sweeping across the planet like wildfire it has infected millions of people, many of them fatally.
Amidst all the confused talk from public figures, there has been one high-profile voice that has remained constant since delivering a prescient TED talk in 2015.
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, used the platform to warn the world of the imminent threat of a global pandemic. He said that countries around the world were not doing enough to prepare for it, with some even going as far as to cut funding for virus programmes.
His words have been proven true.
But there are positives to take out of this grave situation: we can take steps to avoid this happening again. This article is going to look at Gates’ recommendations in more detail to find out exactly how it could be done, according to the entrepreneur.
Investment in research
One notable feature of the crisis has been the number of myths about Covid-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, that have circulated online. Misinformation is a threat and has further contributed to the spread.
Gates knows how to avoid this. He talks about identifying symptoms for the virus like you would for any illness or disorder, whether it be the common cold or even problem gambling—with science.
To push this further, he says, there needs to be a sustained level of investment in biological research, particularly from richer countries. Vaccines need to be developed and tested quicker than the predicted 18-month period at the moment. Governments must carry out detailed simulations of future outbreaks so they can test different response methods and assess the results.
There needs to be an emphasis on ‘germ games, not war games’, to quote Gates; with research and development being at the centre of international political discussion.
Investment in healthcare
One of the most serious effects of the 2020 outbreak has been the huge strain placed on health systems across the world, including in some of the richest countries.
Nowhere is this more stark than in the U.S.A, where hospitals are struggling to afford important drugs and ventilators needed to help fight the virus; despite the country’s status as the richest on the planet. President Donald Trump even announced an extra $2 trillion spending on arms a few months prior to the outbreak, although the actual amount is believed to be lower.
Bill Gates has cited healthcare as the key weapon in tackling COVID-19, not guns and bombs. What’s more, he said it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the military spend of ‘G8 countries’, and also the estimated $2.7 trillion hit to the global economy as a result of the virus.
His suggested measures include:
- Investing in epidemiologists – medical expertise that was lacking during the Ebola outbreak
- Forming stockpiles of crucial equipment needed to treat and test patients
- Training up doctors and nurses to boost countries’ emergency response systems.
It wouldn’t just be rich countries that adopt this approach. According to Gates, it’s essential that poor countries do the same, as this is where the next outbreak could happen.
If they can’t afford it then rich countries should step in to help, as it will ultimately protect them, too.
Implement a military-style response system
The combined might of the global military forces is easily enough to destroy the planet many times over. Yet arms spending continues to escalate. Quite simply, we live in a world that is an expert in warfare.
However, we can use such knowledge to our advantage. ‘Not missiles, but microbes’ is Gates’ quote. Using a war response system, highly sophisticated army logistics could be used to deploy key medical personnel to emergency locations, allowing them to deal with patients quickly.
It is something we know how to do already. NATO, for example, already has mobile units set up that train regularly for emergency situations, such as field hospitals, but this has to be stepped up significantly and implemented worldwide.
This type of task force would be known as a ‘medical response corps’, a highly effective team of experts who are on constant stand-by.
Combining the military with the medical could save countless lives.
Social distancing and technology
On a positive note, Gates has praised people who have carried out social distancing where they can, whether it be by staying indoors or following essential separation rules.
To avoid the spread of a future pandemic, these tactics would have to be adopted from the very start. While there are certain workers that will find them impossible to carry out much of the time, such as health professionals, the rise in teleworking and social technologies will help people to maintain their distance from each other.
Social technology informs people of outbreaks as they arise, and also to check on the health of vulnerable loved ones. It explains the rise of virtual platforms such as Zoom and House Party, and further progress in this field over the next few years will greatly help the fight.
“If there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic,” Gates said in 2015 “it’s that it can serve as an early warning – a wake-up call to get ready.”
The world’s governments ignored Gates’ advice the first time around, with devastating consequences.
If they fail to take heed of his comments a second time, then we might be hit with a virus much worse than COVID-19, and this is something we can’t afford to contemplate.