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Start thinking about next pandemic, say Bill & Melinda Gates

Important opportunity to turn the hard-won lessons into a healthier, more equal future for all

We can’t afford to be caught flat-footed again. The threat of the next pandemic will always be hanging over our heads—unless the world takes steps to prevent it, the Bill and Melinda Gates say.

WASHINGTON, Jan 28 (The CONNECT) - It’s not too soon to start thinking about the next pandemic.

Stating this, Bill and Melinda Gates write in their Annual Letter for 2021 titled The Year Global Health Went Local, that the world has an important opportunity to turn the hard-won lessons of this pandemic into a healthier, more equal future for all.

Bill says: “One of the questions I get asked the most is when I think the world will get back to normal. I understand why. We all want to return to the way things were before COVID-19. But there's one area where I hope we never go back: our complacency about pandemics.”

The unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 might not be the last pandemic. We don’t know when the next one will strike, or whether it will be a flu, a coronavirus, or some new disease we’ve never seen before. But what we do know is that we can’t afford to be caught flat-footed again. The threat of the next pandemic will always be hanging over our heads—unless the world takes steps to prevent it, the Gates couple say.

The good news, they say, is that we can get ahead of infectious disease outbreaks. Although the world failed to prepare for COVID-19 in many ways, we’re still benefiting from actions taken in response to past outbreaks. For example, the Ebola epidemic made it clear that we needed to accelerate the development of new vaccines. So, our foundation partnered with governments and other funders to create the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. CEPI helped fund a number of COVID-19 candidates—including the Moderna and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines—and is deeply involved in the vaccine equity work that Melinda wrote about.

To prevent the hardship of this last year from happening again, pandemic preparedness must be taken as seriously as we take the threat of war. The world needs to double down on investments in R&D and organizations like CEPI that have proven invaluable with COVID-19. We also need to build brand-new capabilities that don’t exist yet, they write.

Stopping the next pandemic will require spending tens of billions of dollars per year—a big investment, but remember that the COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to cost the world $28 trillion. The world needs to spend billions to save trillions (and prevent millions of deaths). I think of this as the best and most cost-efficient insurance policy the world could buy.

When it comes to preventing pandemics, scientific tools alone aren’t enough. The world also needs field-based capabilities that constantly monitor for troubling pathogens and can be spun up as soon as they’re needed. There is still a lot to be figured out in terms of specifics, including where these capabilities would be housed and how exactly they’d be structured, they say.

Please read the full letter here.

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