Bill Gates warns world must be prepared for epidemic worse than Ebola

WASHINGTON, March 20 (PNA/Xinhua) — Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates said Thursday the world must learn from the Ebola outbreak and be prepared for an epidemic of a far more infectious disease that could affect about 10 million people.

In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the Microsoft co-founder described the Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 10,000 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as both “a global failure” and “a wake-up call.”

“There is a significant chance that an epidemic of a substantially more infectious disease will occur sometime in the next 20 years,” he wrote. “Even if the system we have today had worked perfectly for Ebola, it would fail to contain a more infectious disease.”

He said countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) frequently carried out joint exercises for another sort of global threat — war, but the last serious simulation of an epidemic in the United States took place in 2001.

Gates called for “a global warning and response system for outbreaks,” which he said could enable the world to manage not only a naturally occurring epidemic, but also one ignited by a bio-terror attack.

The World Health Organization has a Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network but it’s “severely understaffed and underfunded,” he noted.

According to a blueprint laid out by Gates, such a warning and response system should “be coordinated by a global institution (created by the United Nations) that is given enough authority and funding to be effective” and “enable fast decision making at a global level.”

His plan also included expanding investment in better disease surveillance and laboratory-testing capacity in poor countries, which he said is where a naturally occurring epidemic seems most likely to break out.

He also called for “a reserve corps of trained personnel and volunteers,” who can be sent to confront and contain an epidemic quickly.

Gates stressed the need to invest in more search on diagnostic tests, drugs, and vaccines. He singled out influenza as the one most likely to cause a large epidemic and expressed disappointment about the lack of a vaccine for all influenza strains.

“An epidemic is one of the few catastrophes that could set the world back drastically in the next few decades. By building a global warning and response system, we can prepare for it and prevent millions of deaths,” Gates said. (PNA/Xinhua)