While governments and citizens across the globe prepare and react in assorted way to various stages of the coronavirus pandemic, Bill Gates says there "is no time to waste" and a number of things should be happening immediately to deal with the crisis. And steps should be taken to be ready for the next one.
In a new post on his GatesNotes blog — "How to respond to COVID-19" — the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist writes that saving lives now is obviously the more pressing issue, but improving the way the world responds to an outbreak has longterm consequences.
"In the past week, COVID-19 has started to behave a lot like the once-in-a-century pathogen we've been worried about," Gates wrote. "I hope it's not that bad, but we should assume that it will be until we know otherwise."
In outlining steps that local, state and national governments should be taking right now, Gates said donor governments should be helping low- and middle-income countries prepare, and work on treatments and vaccines should be accelerated.
But larger systemic changes are needed so that the global community can respond "more efficiently and effectively when the next epidemic arrives," he said. Here are some key points Gates makes:
- It's essential to help low- and middle-income countries strengthen their primary health care systems.
- The world needs to invest in disease surveillance, including a case database that is instantly accessible to the relevant organizations and rules that require countries to share their information.
- We need to build a system that can develop safe and effective vaccines and antivirals, get them approved, and deliver billions of doses within a few months of the discovery of a fast-moving pathogen.
- In addition to technical solutions, diplomatic efforts are needed to drive international collaboration and data sharing.
- Budgets for these efforts need to be expanded several times over.
- Governments and industry will need to come to an agreement: During a pandemic, vaccines and antivirals won't simply be sold to the highest bidder. They'll be available and affordable for people who are at the heart of the outbreak and in greatest need.
Earlier this month, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed up to $100 million for the global response to coronavirus to help strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts; protect at-risk populations; and develop vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.