Bill Gates in a New York Times op-ed on Sunday called for a global response team to tackle pandemics.
“I worry that we’re making the same mistakes again,” he wrote, calling the COVID-19 pandemic, which killed over 6 million people worldwide, “a collective failure to prepare for pandemics.”
The op-ed was published about 10 days after the anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring that the coronavirus was a pandemic in 2020.
Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft and a billionaire who, despite his pledges to continue giving away his money, is still No. 4 on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Gates runs philanthropy efforts through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has long been interested in global health. He’s also involved in efforts to tackle climate change.
In his op-ed on Sunday and in his book published in 2022, “How to Prevent the Next Pandemic,” Gates is advocating for a specific model of global pandemic response.
In essence, he believes the world’s countries need to collaborate on a “fire department for pandemics.” This would include what he called “fire drills” where international teams would practice coordinating things from massive early testing to interpersonal education in an outbreak. He also implied this should be a team of trained professionals, not volunteers.
This is analogous to the “fire brigade” of thousands of experts he called for creating in the book. The op-ed also applauded the “Global Health Emergency Corps” that WHO and other organizations are working on.
In January, WHO released a report various ways to improve its response to global pandemics, such as forming a Global Health Emergency Council and a “global health emergency corps,” which would be a “trusted and trained national experts across a range of disciplines… in order to prevent and be operationally ready to rapidly detect and respond to new health threats.”
Gates said it was key for such a group to work quickly in the case of another pandemic, as speed is of the essence.
“These kinds of blazes are rare, but when they happen, there’s no time to waste,” he wrote. “The question is whether we have the foresight to invest in that future now before it’s too late.”
Experts suggest humanity is far from out of the woods as far as the risk of another pandemic. Climate change, human action, and even things like arctic ice thaw are unlocking long-gone diseases, according to ProPublica.