Bill Gates says 'we need a fire department for pandemics' as he worries we're unprepared for the next one

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Bill Gates says 'we need a fire department for pandemics' as he worries we're unprepared for the next one
Bill Gates.Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
  • Bill Gates wrote a New York Times op-ed Sunday warning about future pandemics.
  • He supported the WHO's global health emergency corps, calling it a "fire department for pandemics."
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Bill Gates called for a "fire department for pandemics" as he warned that the world could be unprepared for the next one, in a New York Times op-ed published Sunday.

"We can't afford to get caught flat-footed again," Gates wrote in the essay three years since the World Health Organization first described COVID-19 as a pandemic. He said it "marked the culmination of a collective failure to prepare for pandemics, despite many warnings."

The Microsoft co-founder has been outspoken on disease outbreaks for many years, delivering a TED talk in 2015 urging that a pandemic is "the greatest risk of global catastrophe." The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says it donated more than $2 billion to the global COVID-19 response since January 2020, and last May, Gates published the book "How to Prevent the Next Pandemic."

A 2021 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which analyzed outbreaks of infectious diseases over the past 400 years, found that there's a 38% probability of a pandemic similar to COVID-19 occurring in a person's lifetime – and that this could double in coming decades.

"I worry that we're making ‌‌the same mistakes again. The world hasn't done as much to get ready for the next pandemic as I'd hoped," Gates said in his Times essay.

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But he added he was "optimistic" about the global health emergency corps – a network of health leaders around the world designed to promote collaboration between different countries. Or as Gates puts it in the NYT: "Just as firefighters run drills to practice responding to a fire, the Emergency Corps plans to run drills to practice for outbreaks."

First announced last October, it is part of a WHO strategy designed to be achieved by 2030. In a January report, the WHO said: "All countries should be able to call on a national professional network of trusted and trained national experts ... in order to prevent and be operationally ready to rapidly detect and respond to new health threats."

"The Global Health Emergency Corps will represent massive progress toward a pandemic-free future," Gates wrote in the Times. "The ‌question ‌‌is whether we have the foresight to invest in that future now before it's too late."

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