As public health officials rush to contain the new coronavirus, named COVID-19, Bill Gates warns now is the time to assess our ability to respond to outbreaks. His letter titled, “Responding to Covid-19 — A Once-in-a-Century Pandemic?” was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, explains that public health experts have warned of a serious pandemic for years. And despite warnings, our health systems across the world just haven’t been prepared.
“Global health experts have been saying for years that another pandemic whose speed and severity rivaled those of the 1918 influenza epidemic was a matter not of if but of when. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed substantial resources in recent years to helping the world prepare for such a scenario,” he writes. “In the past week, COVID-19 has started behaving a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we’ve been worried about. I hope it’s not that bad, but we should assume it will be until we know otherwise.”
So what should we do? For starters, Gates suggests wealthier governments donate to low-and middle-income countries to help them prepare for the pandemic.
“By helping African and South Asian countries get ready now, we can save lives and slow the global circulation of the virus,” Gates writes.
Second, Gates asserts that more efforts need to be put towards finding treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.
And finally, Gates says we need to strengthen in our health care system. This includes building health clinics in low-and middle-income countries, investing in disease surveillance, and sharing information globally.
“Governments should have access to lists of trained personnel, from local leaders to global experts, who are prepared to deal with an epidemic immediately, as well as lists of supplies to be stockpiled or redirected in an emergency,” he writes.
Of course, all of this comes with a price. Gates says the current budgets need to be expanded several times over.
“Billions of dollars for antipandemic efforts is a lot of money. But that’s the scale of investment required to solve the problem. And given the economic pain that an epidemic can impose — we’re already seeing how COVID-19 can disrupt supply chains and stock markets, not to mention people’s lives — it will be a bargain.”
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