Bill Gates: 'We need a fire department for pandemics'

Governments around the world could stand to learn a thing or two from firefighters when it comes to preparing for infectious disease outbreaks, Bill Gates wrote in an op-ed published March 19 in The New York Times. 

"We need to prepare to fight disease outbreaks just as we prepare to fight fires," wrote Mr. Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and author of How to Prevent the Next Pandemic. "If a fire is left to burn out of control, it poses a threat not only to one home but to an entire community," just as infectious diseases can start in one town and quickly spread around the world. "We need a fire department for pandemics," he wrote. 

To avoid the same public health failures countries experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Gates called for establishing a well-funded global system that is ready to respond when the next threat emerges. The World Health Organization's plan to build a Global Health Emergency Corps is one reason to be optimistic, Mr. Gates wrote. The corps' goal is to convene the world's top health emergency leaders to ensure every nation has the ability to respond rapidly in the event of a disease outbreak and stop the spread of a pathogen.

Mr. Gates expressed optimism about the emergency corps' plans to run practice drills for outbreaks, which will "make sure that everyone — governments, healthcare providers, emergency healthcare workers — knows what to do when a potential outbreak emerges," he wrote. Drills and simulations will allow countries and leaders to see which areas of their response efforts need to be improved before a real threat hits. 

Mr. Gates said two things will support a successful emergency corps: participation from public health leaders in all countries, and funding from wealthy countries. 

"We can't afford to get caught flat-footed again," he said. "The world must take action now to make sure COVID-19 becomes the last pandemic." 


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