Bill Gates, the billionaire we’ve all come to know as the man behind tech giant Microsoft, has long had a hand in philanthropic affairs. Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, named after himself and his wife, the pioneering entrepreneur has invested billions of dollars into the betterment of humankind. In fact, the Foundation is one of the world’s largest private organization, and is valued at $42.3 billion.
So, given the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, it makes sense that the Foundation would have a role to play duing this time.
Bill Gates wrote an extensive blog post on his official blog, where he stated that this viral outbreak is not unlike other problems that leaders face: “In any crisis, leaders have two equally important responsibilities: solve the immediate problem and keep it from happening again. The COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent case in point. The world needs to save lives now while also improving the way we respond to outbreaks in general. The first point is more pressing, but the second has crucial long-term consequences.”
His words resonate soundly as we see government leaders, stock markets and the world overall trip and fall in a panic. As we’ve seen again and again, the Coronavirus outbreak is by no means more lethal than recent viral outbreaks such as SARS and Ebola, even if has produced more cases in the same time period. Yet, the world has gone into full metldown.
China’s economy has come to a halt, with companies, factories and other organizations sending their employees home. Supply chains have been disrupted, affecting everything from the petrol you put in your car to the iPhone you own and that Starbucks coffee you just bought.
Then again, we have to remember that this isn’t the first time we’ve dealth with an outbreak in the past century or so.
“The long-term challenge—improving our ability to respond to outbreaks—isn’t new,” Gates says. “Global health experts have been saying for years that another pandemic rivalling the speed and severity of the 1918 influenza epidemic wasn’t a matter of if but when. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed significant resources in recent years to helping the world prepare for such a scenario.”
If anything, Covid-19 has the one-up on other outbreaks in the fact that it’s so easily transmittable between hosts and victims. With the virus hitting 100,242 cases and 3,408 deaths in the span of just over 2 months, as of this writing, one can understand the world’s reaction.
“There are two reasons that COVID-19 is such a threat,” Gates explained. “First, it can kill healthy adults in addition to elderly people with existing health problems. The data so far suggests that the virus has a case fatality risk around 1%; this rate would make it several times more severe than typical seasonal influenza and would put it somewhere between the 1957 influenza pandemic (0.6%) and the 1918 influenza pandemic (2%).”
He continued: “Second, COVID-19 is transmitted quite efficiently. The average infected person spreads the disease to two or three others. That’s an exponential rate of increase. There is also strong evidence that it can be transmitted by people who are just mildly ill or not even showing symptoms yet. This means COVID-19 will be much harder to contain than Middle East Respiratory Syndrome or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which were only spread by those showing symptoms and were much less efficiently transmitted. In fact, COVID-19 has already caused 10 times as many cases as SARS in just a quarter of the time.
“The good news is that national, state, and local governments and public health agencies can take steps over the next few weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
Gates believes that the governments of wealthier countries should help poorer nations in addressing the outbreak, given how thin their resources would be spread throughout such a crisis, and that helping those regions in Africa and South Asia will ultimately will not only save lives in those countries, but worldwide too – think of it as the literal manifestation of the greater good.
Finally, Gates believes there needs to be a change in the way we develop vaccines.
“The world also needs to accelerate work on treatments and vaccines for COVID-19,” he said. “Scientists were able to sequence the genome of the virus and develop several promising vaccine candidates in a matter of days, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations is already preparing up to eight promising vaccine candidates for clinical trials. If one or more of these vaccines proves safe and effective in animal models, they could be ready for larger-scale trials as early as June.”
He believes we can accelerate the process of developing vaccines if we utilize new emerging technology, such as machine learning, Additionally, he believes systemic and budgetary reforms need to be undertaken to further accelerate the vaccine development process, as well as handling the pandemic.
He also touches on the often-sensitive sales price of vaccines, especially during widespread outbreaks.
“Finally, governments and industry will need to come to an agreement: During a pandemic, vaccines and antivirals won’t simply be sold to the highest bidder. They’ll be available and affordable for people who are at the heart of the outbreak and in greatest need. Not only is this the right thing to do, it’s also the right strategy for short-circuiting transmission and preventing future pandemics.”
“These are the actions that leaders should be taking now. There is no time to waste.”
You can read the complete and detailed blog post here.