President Donald Trump may have the nuclear codes, but when it comes to things to be scared about, think bigger. According to Bill Gates, bioterrorism could be even more deadly.
The Microsoft cofounder warned the world is not paying enough attention to “health security and international security” in some decidedly grim remarks at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, the Guardian reported.
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Gates suggested that a virus, engineered by terrorists to be extra-contagious and deadly, could be devastating.
“Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year,” he explained. “And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years.”
In the 21st century, pandemics are rare but not unheard of. The H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 was said to have run its course by the World Health Organisation in 2010, and Gates argued there’s no room for complacency. Planning systems of diagnosis as well as rapid vaccine development could help prevent a naturally occurring infectious disease from spreading, as well as one maliciously unleashed.
“It’s hard to get your mind around a catastrophe of that scale, but it happened not that long ago. In 1918, a particularly virulent and deadly strain of flu killed between 50 million and 100 million people,” he said, according to the outlet.
“We would be wise to consider the social and economic turmoil that might ensue if something like ebola made its way into urban centres.”
Issues of bio-terrorism and global pandemics have captured Gates’ attention for awhile now. He also raised the spectre in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, urging governments to begin investing in prevention.
In the midst of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2015, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation warned the world isn’t ready to fight a highly infectious disease: “In fact, of all the things that could kill more than 10 million people around the world in the years ahead, by far the most likely is an epidemic, from either natural causes or bioterrorism.”
The billionaire philanthropist is also putting his (foundation’s) money where his mouth is.
The Gates Foundation, which funds research into infections such as malaria, has also invested in the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The group aims to develop quick, affordable vaccine responses to epidemics such as Ebola and SARS.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been contacted for comment.