Bill Gates Describes His Biggest Fear: “I Rate the Chance of a Widespread Epidemic Far Worse Than Ebola at Well Over 50 Percent” (2015)

What are bil­lion­aires afraid of? A wealth tax? Uni­ver­sal health­care? Immi­grants from sev­er­al spe­cif­ic places in the world? Prob­a­bly. But if you ask one bil­lion­aire, Bill Gates—who has spent the last sev­er­al years spend­ing mon­ey to com­bat dead­ly epidemics—he’ll answer with a very detailed descrip­tion of a glob­al threat to every­one, not just the hand­ful of peo­ple in his (un)tax(ed) brack­et: Pan­demics like the 1918 Span­ish flu, as he told Vox’s Ezra Klein in the 2015 video inter­view above. The dis­ease infect­ed around 27 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and killed tens of mil­lions of peo­ple from every social class.

Such events are high­ly prob­a­ble, and we should be pre­pared for them. “I rate the chance of a wide­spread epi­dem­ic far worse than Ebo­la in my life­time at well over 50 per­cent,” he says. In fact, Gates met with the pres­i­dent two years ago to urge fed­er­al action on pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness. He was heard and ignored.

Now, as the CDC faces the spread of coro­n­avirus in major cities around the coun­try, it finds itself woe­ful­ly unpre­pared for the task. “The truth is we’ve not invest­ed, we’ve under­in­vest­ed in the pub­lic health labs,” direc­tor Robert Red­field told Con­gress in recent hear­ings. “There’s not enough equip­ment, there’s not enough peo­ple, there’s not enough inter­nal capac­i­ty….”

The sit­u­a­tion looks bleak, but Gates was “opti­mistic” despite his pre­dic­tions. And why shouldn’t he be? Klein wrote: “He’s one of the rich­est men in the world,” and he also “runs a foun­da­tion immersed in the world’s prob­lems” and “can mea­sure them get­ting bet­ter.” But a dead­ly pan­dem­ic remains “the most pre­dictable cat­a­stro­phe in the his­to­ry of the human race,” writes Klein. Maybe Gates should have urged the gov­ern­ment to pre­pare by explain­ing how it would boost the oil and hotel indus­tries.

For those who can be per­suad­ed by evi­dence of a pos­si­ble pandemic’s effect on human lives, Gates mod­eled how a dis­ease as dead­ly and infec­tious as the Span­ish flu would act today. “With­in 60 days it’s basi­cal­ly in all urban cen­ters around the entire globe,” he says. “That didn’t hap­pen with the Span­ish flu.” He explains fur­ther in the TED talk above how the “great­est risk of glob­al cat­a­stro­phe” doesn’t look like a mush­room cloud but like the spiky micro­scop­ic ball of the influen­za virus, or its equiv­a­lent. That may not be COVID-19, but what­ev­er it is, Gates has been warn­ing for years, we are not ready.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Inter­ac­tive Web Site Tracks the Glob­al Spread of the Coro­n­avirus: Cre­at­ed and Sup­port­ed by Johns Hop­kins

How to Pro­tect Your­self Against COVID-19/­Coro­n­avirus

Chi­nese Muse­ums, Closed by the Coro­n­avirus, Put Their Exhi­bi­tions Online

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Mrs Cathy Mc Mahon says:

    Bill Gates believes in depop­u­la­tion. Now he has it. Must make him very pleased.

  • Shaun says:

    If he enjoys it, why would he say he fears it?
    The virus can­not kill more peo­ple than the pop grows per year (81 mil­lion peo­ple). World pop­u­la­tion will still grow this year despite the virus. It’s not dead­ly enough.

  • Bo Pendo says:

    Cathy’s not dumb, you Shaun are the real dum­my here:
    You’re in dire need of a dic­tio­nary.

    Try not to make imbe­cile remarks.

  • Dana Kinglsey says:

    Why would you critize him? He has done far more to tey and help the sit­u­a­tion than most any­one or nation. And yes, this plan­et and the ani­mals on it are suf­fer­ing from over­pop­u­la­tion. Crazy sit­u­a­tion now.

  • Keo Legend says:

    Only fools believes in over­pop­u­la­tion. If any­thing we have over­con­cen­tra­tion of peo­ple. We just need to spread out the pop­u­la­tion a bit more out­side the big cities. There is enough food for even twice of the cur­rent world pop.
    You need to under­stand that there is a rea­son for every­thing those pow­er­ful and influ­ent peo­ple do. He is not a Jesus incar­na­tion that only wish­es to help peo­ple with­out noth­ing in return. Be aware of that.

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