Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates has said that the US government is falling short in preparing itself and the world for the “significant probability of a large and lethal modern-day pandemic occurring in our lifetimes”.
Gates, in an interview earlier this week, said that he raised the issue of pandemic preparedness with President Donald Trump since the 2016 presidential election, the Washington Post reported.
Gates said he laid out the increasing risk of a bioterrorism attack and stressed the importance of US funding for advanced research on new therapeutics, including a universal flu vaccine which would protect against all or most strains of influenza.
He said that he told Trump that the President had a chance to lead on the issue of global health security. Trump encouraged him to follow up with top officials at the Health and Human Services Department, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, Gates said.
“This could be an important first step if the White House and Congress use the opportunity to articulate and embrace a leadership role for the US.”
Gates said he met several times with Trump’s former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and also wanted to meet McMaster’s replacement John Bolton.
“…I think we’ve got to push this … with the executive branch and Congress quite a bit,” Gates said. “There hasn’t been a big effort along these lines.”
He, in a speech before the Massachusetts Medical Society on Friday, also announced a $12 million Grand Challenge in partnership with the family of Google Inc. co-founder Larry Page to accelerate the development of a universal flu vaccine.
Gates and his wife, Melinda, repeatedly warned that a pandemic was the greatest immediate threat to humanity. Experts said the risk was high, because new pathogens were constantly emerging and the world was interconnected.
According to several experts, the US is underprepared for a pandemic or a bioterrorism threat.
The government’s sprawling bureaucracy, they said, was not nimble enough to deal with mutations that suddenly turn an influenza virus into a virulent strain, like the 1918 influenza did in killing an estimated 50 million to 100 million people worldwide, the daily’s report said.
“If a highly contagious and lethal airborne pathogen like the 1918 influenza were to take hold today, nearly 33 million people worldwide would die in just six months,” Gates said, citing a simulation done by the Institute for Disease Modelling, a research organization in Bellevue, Washington.
“Even the best tools in the world won’t be sufficient, if the US doesn’t have a strategy to harness and coordinate resources at home and help to lead an effective global preparedness and response system,” Gates said.