The TED conference in Vancouver drew lots of attention. Bill Gates was the featured speaker. Yes, that Bill Gates, the one who is the voodoo doll of COVID conspiracies.
The Last Pandemic
It was his first time back at TED since 2015 when he gave a speech about how the world wasn’t ready for the next epidemic. 4.3 million people watched that talk, but 90% of the views came after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This time no one in the audience needed to be convinced that a deadly virus could kill millions of people around the world and upend our lives.
His talk was all about how we can make COVID-19 the last pandemic. He believes we can eliminate the threat of pandemics completely if we approach infectious diseases like we approach fighting fires. Then he told the story of how firefighting started.
The Birth of Firefighting
In the year 6 CE, a fire devastated Rome. In response Emperor Augustus did something that had never been done in the history of the Empire. He created a permanent team of firefighters who used buckets to fight fires. Augustus understood that individuals alone can’t protect themselves from fires. They need help from the community. When one person’s house is on fire that creates a risk for everyone else’s. homes.
Over time we’ve gotten good at preventing big fires. Fire prevention is kind of this pervasive thing. It’s well funded. It’s well understood. When a fire alarm goes off, we know that help will be on the way because we have lots of trained firefighters. Edmonton fire rescue receives 53,000 calls a year. In Calgary alone there are 16,000 firefighters.
The Birth of Pandemic Fighting
What we’ve had these last few years is like a horrific global fire. The COVID pandemic has killed millions and upended economies, and we want to stop that from happening again.
Bill Gates focused on what he calls the GERM—Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization—team. A new, full-time, paid group whose entire job is to prepare for the next outbreak. The world needs the infectious disease equivalent of firefighters—a group of in-country and global epidemiologists, data scientists, logistics experts, and more who are ready to go anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.
See pictures from the exhibit at TED called “The Last Pandemic.”
We live in interesting times. There is a felt need to develop pandemic readiness plans. Research from Duke University shows the probability of novel disease outbreaks will likely grow three-fold in the next few decades. Bill’s ideas may well help our grandchildren be prepared better than we were to face COVID-19.
What do you think of Bill’s ideas? Please join the conversation and leave a comment below. thank you.
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