Bill Gates is already worrying about the next pandemic.
The Microsoft MSFT, +0.92% founder and philanthropist notes in his annual letter with wife Melinda Gates that while everyone wants the world to go back to “normal” after COVID-19 is brought under control, the world cannot afford to go back to being complacent about pandemics.
“Pandemic preparedness must be taken as seriously as we take the threat of war,” Gates writes in his portion of the letter released on Wednesday. He suggests that stopping the next pandemic will require “spending tens of billions of dollars per year,” and argues the investment is necessary to prevent a global disease outbreak like COVID-19 from costing trillions of dollars — and millions of lives.
And he has some ideas on how that money should be spent, which he lays out in a video accompanying his latest letter.
Gates’s pandemic preparedness plan includes a large-scale global alert system that would be able to spot disease outbreaks as soon as they happen, from wherever they happen.
He also calls for having a team of pandemic first responders spread across the globe that would regularly train for outbreaks with “germ games” — similar to how the military trains through war games — who would be ready to spring into action whenever a super-infectious disease or new pathogen threatens to become a health crisis.
And Gates hopes mega-testing diagnostic platforms that could test as much as 20% of the global population every week could be online before the next outbreak, and that we’ll be able to get treatments and vaccines out even faster next time through more antibody research.
Watch his video pitch here:
As for the current COVID-19 crisis, the Gates letter reveals that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $1.75 billion in the war against the coronavirus so far, which has largely gone toward producing and distributing medical supplies, funding research into developing treatments and vaccines, as well as distributing the vaccines against the virus.
But Melinda Gates warns about wealthy individuals and countries enjoying easy access to COVID-19 vaccines while the rest of the world struggles to get the potentially lifesaving shots, reminding readers that “COVID-19 anywhere is a threat everywhere.”
Indeed, early vaccine rollout data suggests she has cause to be concerned about what she calls “immunity inequality,” as Black Americans — who have been dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than white Americans — are getting vaccinated at lower rates. And World Health Organization director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus recently pointed out that fewer than five dozen total doses of the vaccine had reached one poorer country; meanwhile richer nations got their hands on millions.
Or there have been eyebrow-raising reports of wealthy individuals stopping at nothing to jump the vaccination line, such as the former CEO of a Canadian casino company and his wife pretending to be members of a remote indigenous community to get doses of the Moderna vaccine. Rodney and Ekaterina Baker actually chartered a plane from Vancouver to the small Beaver Creek community to get the shots, telling a mobile vaccination clinic that they worked at a nearby motel. They now face charges of breaking Yukon COVID-19 rules, including failing to self-isolate after traveling.
Melinda Gates also writes about how COVID-19, as well as disease outbreaks such as AIDS, Zika and Ebola, hit communities of color and lower-income communities the hardest by exploiting pre-existing inequalities in health care access. And she addresses how the current pandemic has highlighted the unpaid labor that women provide, and how extra caregiving and home schooling responsibilities have driven women from the workforce.