Addressing the Munich Security Conference today Bill Gates warned that the stage was set for the next deadly worldwide epidemic. Gates said the event could be triggered deliberately by a terrorist group employing biotechnology for an attack. In his speech before the assembled group, Gates compared the impending pandemic to nuclear war and climate change.
“The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus … or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu,” he warned in the speech which was published by Business Insider. “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. And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years.”
The Microsoft founder went on to say the link between health security and international security is underestimated adding that governments are not paying enough attention to this threat. “We ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril.”
We have been lucky thanks to medical advancements in the last century, but that luck has caused us to be lax in taking the precautions needed to insure our continued safety. The lack of a deadly pandemic since the 1918 outbreak of the Spanish Flu has lulled the world into a false sense of security.
Gates reminded the group of the scale of that flu outbreak which turned into an unstoppable pandemic that resulted in the infection of nearly 500 million people and claimed a death rate of between 10 and 20 percent of those infected. “Most of the things we need to do to protect against a naturally occurring pandemic are the same things we must prepare for an intentional biological attack.”
Gates warned that the consequences of such an event, would be comparable to a nuclear war. “I view the threat of deadly pandemics right up there with nuclear war.” He also added that proper preparation for such an event could reduce the risks.
While no one argues that all nations must be prepared for such an event, most authorities believe that the best such preparations can achieve is a reduction in the number of deaths by about 30 percent. Readiness however, comes with a huge price tag that many nations simply cannot afford and includes the creation of an “arsenal of new weapons” to counter various epidemics.
Gates says that the preparation cannot be left solely to government, that people need to “prepare for epidemics the way the military prepares for war,” such as, conducting exercises to understand viruses’ behavior. Last year, the US government executed a simulated gas attack in the New York subway. The results from that test were less than heartening. According to Gates the cost of proper preparation could be as high as $570 billion annually.