Bill Gates is no stranger to discussing his fears about influenza and the effect it could have on the global population in the coming years. He discussed his fears of a pandemic with Vox in May of 2015, pointing out how the death tolls connected to infectious disease rival the two greatest wars humanity has seen to this point:
“Look at the death chart of the 20th century,” he says, because he’s the kind of guy that looks at death charts. “I think everybody would say there must be a spike for World War I. Sure enough, there it is, like 25 million. And there must be a big spike for World War II, and there it is, it’s like 65 million. But then you’ll see this other spike that is as large as World War II right after World War I, and most people, would say, ‘What was that?'”
“Well, that was the Spanish flu.”
According to an article from Standford University, the Spanish Flu shortened the average life span by 10 years on a population and compared the conditions to those in Europe during the spread of the Bubonic Plague. So it’s really no shock that Gates would be a little worried about our current preparedness for the next big epidemic. The outbreaks of Ebola in 2014 showed how fast disease can spread through a population, especially one that’s ill-prepared to deal with it.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pushing for global awareness and preparedness against infectious disease, committing millions to creating vaccines and education poverty-stricken nations on how to best deal. The problem according to Gates in an interview with BBC Radio’s Today is that we’re currently vulnerable around the globe to a major flu epidemic in the next decade:
There’s a lot of discussion right now about how do we respond in an emergency? How do we make sure that the regulatory and liability and organizational boundaries don’t slow us down there? I cross my fingers all the time that some epidemic like a big flu doesn’t come along in the next ten years. I do think we’ll have much better medical tools, much better response, but we are a bit vulnerable right now if something that spread very quickly, like say a flu that was quite fatal. That would be a tragedy.
BBC News uses the official responses to the Ebola and Zika outbreaks as examples of the organizational hampering that could hinder the treatment during an epidemic. Also included in the interview is England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, who agrees with Gates’ assessment and points out that the government had recently rehearsed a major medical scenario and ran into similar limitations.
Just taken from what we know about the possibility of antibiotic-resistant infections and the scares against vaccines — including those connected to the recent rise of measles around the globe — these fears are likely warranted. With the population today at near 7.5 billion, the possible outcomes are scary.