Bill Gates may not love New Year’s resolutions, but he’s still setting large goals for 2022 and beyond.
At the top of his list: avoiding future pandemics.
In his end-of-year blog post earlier this month, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder and healthcare philanthropist wrote that among the world’s biggest problems, the next Covid-level health scare is pressing enough to demand attention in 2022.
“We can’t afford to repeat the suffering of the last two years,” Gates wrote. “The world had a chance to invest in the tools and systems that could’ve prevented the Covid-19 pandemic, and we didn’t take it.”
Gates hinted that the topic will be the subject of his next book, set to publish next year. In the meantime, he wrote, investing in medical research and development is a smart place to start: Many of the world’s highest-profile medical projects, paused by Covid, could accelerate again in the near future.
In one example, he noted, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helped fund a Phase III trial of islatravir, a preventative HIV medication, in Africa.
Current pill treatments offer reliable protection, but they must be ingested in frequent or otherwise planned intervals. The new treatment, also a pill, would only need to be taken once per month — and the trial’s first results, released this summer, were promising, Gates noted.
Gates and ex-wife Melinda French Gates have also donated billions of dollars to various health organizations. In a 2019 Wall Street Journal essay, the pair said they’d given up to $10 billion to organizations like the Global Fund, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI) over the past two decades.
In his blog post, Gates wrote, some of this year’s achievements show that the world may really be able to end the Covid pandemic and curb the next one, from governments and nonprofits combating climate change together to the World Health Organization’s approval of the first malaria vaccine.
But a growing global distrust in public institutions, he noted, represents a significant hurdle. According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Index, a survey of more than 33,000 people across 28 countries that Gates cited in his post, Americans in particular don’t trust their public officials: The study noted that 40% of U.S. respondents “deeply” distrust the country’s federal government.
“If your people don’t trust you, they’re not going to support major new initiatives,” Gates wrote. “And when a major crisis emerges, they’re less likely to follow guidance necessary to weather the storm.”
It’s a timely issue: According to some experts, the next pandemic could be even worse, and it might not even be far away. “I think that as time goes forward we’re going to see more of them,” Richard Preston, author of “The Hot Zone,” a 1994 book about Ebola, told CNBC last year. “And they’re going to balloon faster.”
For Gates, that means political leaders and private citizens alike need to get on board with preventative actions — before Covid starts to fade from people’s priority lists.
“Now is the time to learn from our mistakes and take steps to prevent this terrible experience from ever happening again,” Gates wrote. “I’m hopeful that we’ll see broad support for pandemic preparedness efforts, and I plan on spending a lot of time advocating for them.”
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