Stopping the next pandemic
The one time the military tried a sort of simulated war game against a smallpox pandemic, the final score was "smallpox one, humanity zero," Gates said.
But he reiterated that he's an optimist, saying he thinks we could better prepare for the next viral or bacterial threat.
In some ways, we're better prepared now than we were for previous pandemics. We have antiviral drugs that can in many cases do at least something to improve survival rates. We have antibiotics that can treat secondary infections like pneumonia associated with the flu.
We're also getting closer to a universal flu vaccine; Gates announced on Friday that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would offer $12 million in grants to encourage its development.
And we're getting better at rapid diagnosis too — which is essential, as the first step toward fighting a new disease is quarantine. Just this week, a new research paper in the journal Science touted the development of a way to use the gene-editing technology Crispr to rapidly detect diseases and identify them using the same sort of paper strip used in a home pregnancy test.
But we're not yet good enough at rapidly identifying the threat from a disease and coordinating a response, as the global reaction to the latest Ebola epidemic showed.
There needs to be better communication between militaries and governments to help coordinate responses, Gates said. And he thinks governments need ways to quickly enlist the help of the private sector when it comes to developing technology and tools to fight an emerging deadly disease.
Melinda Gates recently said that the threat of a global pandemic, whether it emerges naturally or is engineered, was perhaps the biggest risk to humanity.
"Think of the number of people who leave New York City every day and go all over the world — we're an interconnected world," she said.
Those connections make us all vulnerable.
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