The new Bill Gates: “How to prevent the next epidemic” – Culture

After writing How We Prevent Climate Catastrophe in February 2021 on how he thinks we can prevent climate catastrophe, Bill Gates has already launched his next book: How to Prevent the Next Pandemic. It is not difficult to guess what it is about. The world’s most famous software developer put together a detailed plan in just over 300 pages. It deals with many dimensions of epidemic prevention and public health, and in the end it always comes down to a lot of money.

If you want to prevent a pandemic, you need to understand how it starts. Initially, there is the pathogen, which develops somewhere, somehow, for example in an animal, and, by the whim of evolution, thanks to a new mutation, acquires the new property of being able also to infect humans. If no one is around, this is the whole success story of a potential pandemic germ. However, if it jumps to humans, experts talk about a zoonotic disease, it must be able to pass the infection on to other people. For this he needs not only the necessary biology, but also opportunities. If both were missing, there would be no pandemic.

Unfortunately, it skips a central point almost without comment

However, if the new germ can spread from person to person and manage to infect residents of an urban area, the chances of a global pandemic are really good. The chances of success increase when the pathogen is unknown, both to the human immune system and to medicine. SARS-CoV-2 was a new pathogen not yet known to the human race, it was highly contagious, and even before symptoms began in those infected, it could be transmitted through the air – full pandemic potential. The virus reached Wuhan and from there to the rest of the world in a few weeks.

In general, a pandemic requires a lot of coincidence. In fact, pathogens with the potential for a pandemic are constantly emerging, fortunately without humanity noticing. Just now and then the virus clears all the hurdles. A little over a year ago, a team of researchers estimated that the probability of a pandemic in the Corona category is 2% each year.

Bill Gates: How to prevent the next pandemic. Piper Verlag, Munich 2022. 336 pages, €24.

Climate change and population growth mean that people are crawling more and more into natural habitats and also coming into contact with animals. This increases the risk of the pathogen making the jump to humans. Factory farming also provides good conditions for the breeding of zoonoses. In this regard, humanity must do everything to reduce this danger.

Gates goes to this aspect practically without comment. His ideas come into play when it comes to preventing outbreaks, that is, preventing more people from becoming infected and transmitting the pathogen. In doing so, he follows the dogma of epidemiologist Larry Brilliant, who, like Gates, loves to travel to TED Talks to spread his ideas. There, Brilliant said in 2006 that outbreaks are inevitable but epidemics are optional. In order to prevent this, early detection and quick reaction are necessary – the essence of not only the fight against the epidemic, but also, for example, the fire brigade.

Gates wants to keep outbreaks small through close monitoring, and he apologizes for the term’s poor connotations. But he does not mean the injectable chips, as some opponents of vaccination claim, but rather the coordinated collection of health information by medical staff. Without this monitoring, Sars-CoV-2 would likely have been discovered much later and would have caused more damage worldwide, although it is hard to imagine.

It seems as if people are forgetting that comprehensive epidemic protection cannot be bought with money

Testing and investing are two words that Gates uses often. It is also good to test everything possible, but you also have to finance it. Gates about himself: “I am a tech expert. Innovation is my hammer, with which I try to push every nail I can get. As a co-founder of a successful technology company, I firmly believe in the power of the private sector to drive innovation.”

At times, Gates seems to ignore the fact that money can’t buy comprehensive pandemic protection, even if it is available in abundance. It also needs people’s participation, and that requires trust – in governments, but also in science. Above all, confidence in politics has evaporated in many countries due to the pandemic. Restoring it will be an important line of defense against any epidemic that may come after.

In addition to testing, vaccines and expanded public healthcare in countries, the billionaires shopping list also includes an epidemic prevention team that can’t prevent an outbreak, but must at least curb its spread. Gates calls it the GERM—short for Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization Team—”and employees must ask themselves every day, ‘Is the world ready for the next pandemic?'” What can we do to prepare better? “With full salary and regular training, they should be able to respond in a coordinated manner to the next pandemic threat,” he says, describing the Rapid Response Force, which employs 3,000 full-time employees and is said to report to the World Health Organization. Estimated cost: $1 billion per year.

Gates writes whether or not a pandemic will occur after reporting the outbreak in the first 100 days, then the power of the germ appears in all subsequent chapters in the book on disease surveillance, emergency response coordination and advice on the research agenda and system conduct. Tests to detect vulnerabilities.

Gates is not an expert in epidemiology or viruses. But he’s in a prime position where people who really know their stuff are happy to share their knowledge with him, for example when he invites them to work over dinner, which he describes as his “favorite tactic”. This access to expertise combined with an irrepressible interest and a sharp mind makes the book well worth reading for anyone looking for a more technical look at fighting the pandemic. Hopefully, many people will read the book, and Gates’ bad reputation is sure to help. And if it helps ensure a global disease control team, that would be a good thing.

But it would have been truer not to pretend that the next pandemic could be prevented. Rather, the question is how well prepared the human race will be.

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