Bill Gates recently wrote an essay, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the article, Gates discusses the probability of a medical epidemic, which could cause a global emergency. Although the tone of the essay is bleak, the Microsoft co-founder offered several suggestions to negate the risk.
As discussed in the article, the recent Ebola epidemic should be considered a “wake-up call.” Although the Ebola threat has waned in recent months, Gates explains that “Ebola is far from the most infectious known disease.”
In his opinion, diseases spread through airborne particles, including influenza and measles, are a specific concern.
Ebola, for example, requires direct contact to spread. Although the disease is particularly aggressive, and deadly, airborne diseases have the potential to infect more people.
As discussed in the essay, nations are willing to spend billions on military defense. However, there are few programs that focus on prevention, and treatment, of infectious disease. In Gates’ opinion, a global epidemic could be as devastating, and costly, as any war.
Bill Gates’ New England Journal of Medicine essay suggests several strategies to prevent and respond to a global epidemic. His first suggestion deals with healthcare systems and surveillance.
“We need to invest in better disease-surveillance and laboratory-testing capacity… Routine surveillance systems should be designed in such a way that they can detect early signs of an outbreak… They should be linked with national public health laboratories to enable robust monitoring and response.”
Gates further suggests an increased investment in preparedness. In his opinion, countries have an obligation to train personnel and stockpile equipment.
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Although volunteers are often willing to help, disaster sites are commonly disorganized. In his essay, Gates recommends using technology to facilitated better organization when disaster strikes. However, the technology would require a reliable connection.
“Internet and cell-phone capacity need to be improved… Key centers should have high-bandwidth Internet capacity through satellite, and Wi-Fi capacity should be added in key areas so that digital tools can help with reporting data and coordinating personnel.”
Bill Gates’ New England Journal of Medicine article also underlines the importance of diagnostic testing, treatment options, and vaccines.
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In many cases, vaccines can prevent the spread of infectious disease. However, when an outbreak occurs, clear diagnosis and effective treatment are essential.
Gates suggests raising awareness and availability of vaccines and streamlining the drug approval process. He also suggests increased funding to develop new and more effective vaccines to treat common airborne illness, including influenza.
To achieve these goals, Bill Gates suggests organizing global cooperation through the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
As stated in Bill Gates’ New England Journal of Medicine essay, preparedness and organization are the most important factors in preventing a global disaster.
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