Forbes hosted its fourth annual Summit on Philanthropy. Bill Gates was included on a panel discussing what went wrong with the global response to the Ebola epidemic and how to better prepare for future threats.
One of his main points? “There’s no need to panic about the next Ebola epidemic,” he said. Despite all our missteps the last time, now we’re better prepared, with more awareness, better tools, and a more streamlined response.
Instead, he said, we should worry about a future epidemic that is much more contagious than Ebola, one that spreads via the air, such as a deadly flu, rather than via bodily fluids as Ebola does.
His next question shed light on just how underprepared the US was for such a threat, compared with the threat of something like a major war. “What’s more important,” he asked, “having a standby military or a standby medical corps?”
The thing that’s more likely to kill 10 million people in the next 30 years is an epidemic, either naturally caused or induced by bioterrorism. So the fact that there’s such a disparity in how prepared we are for war — with trainings and standbys and lists and equipment — and for an epidemic …
When Ebola struck, [people wondered] who knows how to get people to volunteer? Medicins Sans Frontieres, Partners in Health… [they] did their best almost to the breaking point to fill that void. But it was very slow compared to having a military reserve list.
In general, he pointed to the importance of government support and funding to building the necessary public health infrastructure not only domestically but also abroad. “Philanthropy’s not big enough to take on this whole problem,” he said. “Government has the dominant role to play.”