Bill Gates believes a coming disease could 'kill 30 million people in 6 months'
Over the past century or so, humankind has made leaps and bounds in the field of medicine. Our understanding of illnesses has vastly improved, infant mortality rates are the lowest they've ever been, and life expectancy has increased overall worldwide.
And yet, that doesn't mean we are completely invulnerable to a new disease.
In fact, Bill Gates has recently come forward to say that we are very vulnerable, and that - should a new strain of an existing illness, or, indeed, a whole new disease emerge - the human race could be in serious danger. Because, even though we may have become better at researching and understanding viruses and other forms of infections, we have not got a proper grasp on how to manage pandemics.
This, Gates says, could lead to the emergence of a disease that could kill 30 million people across the globe in as little as six months.
"In the case of biological threats, that sense of urgency is lacking," he said at a discussion about epidemics last month. "The world needs to prepare for pandemics in the same serious way it prepares for war."
Gates based his predictions on a simulation created by the Institute for Disease Modeling. The simulation showed that, if a new strain of flu emerged that was similar to the 1918 pandemic (which killed 50 million people), it would wipe out 50 million individuals in just half a year.
What's more, given the way the world works, it's becoming more and more likely that such an incident could happen within the next decade. After all, new pathogens arise whenever the human population expands into previously-uninhabited environments, new technology makes it easier for someone to create a mutated weaponized disease, and new, unprecedented levels of interconnectedness means that a pathogen could make its way from one side of the world to another in a matter of hours.
But don't worry just yet, because Gates has a message of optimism.
In Gates' opinion, a global catastrophe can be avoided if governments start preparing early. Improvements must be made in communications between militaries and governments, he said, and the private sector must be utilized in order to develop tools and technology to fight new threats.
Even without those things, though, we are still better at dealing will mass illnesses than we ever have been in the past. We have antiviral and antibiotic treatments that, even if they can't cure a new disease, will certainly go some way to alleviating symptoms and improving the chance of survival. We also have more sophisticated diagnostic techniques, and are able to implement at least some level of quarantine at short notice.
Though the overall message may seem bleak, Gates and his wife, Melinda, are set on making sure that such a pandemic does not happen. In fact, the couple are currently offering $12 million in order to fund research for a universal flu treatment - something which we will hopefully see emerging in the very near future.
In the meantime, though, the best we can do is lobby governments to take issues like this more seriously, and to keep in mind the severity of these issues in our own lives.