Bill Gates is one of the most powerful people in the world, with a proven track record of being on the forefront of technological innovations.
But the Microsoft mogul and his wife Melinda, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have turned their predictions away from technology and into a more existential field.
The husband-and-wife oracles have long advocated that the biggest threat to human existence is a ‘bioterrorism attack’.
Melinda Gates said as much in a recent interview with Vox founder Ezra Klein at SXSW, saying we could expect such an attack within the next 10 years.
A bioterrorist event could spread so quickly, and we are so unprepared for it. Think of the number of people who leave New York City every day and go all over the world – we’re an interconnected world.
She said the prospect was so scary that she didn’t like to talk about it, despite she and her husband’s warnings for years.
The two recently released a ‘Goalkeepers’ report, in which they said that disease, either man-made or natural, is the biggest risk facing the human species in the coming decade.
We have methods to treat chronic diseases like cancer, and will hopefully be able to treat them even more successfully in the years to come, but infectious diseases are another matter.
Bill Gates even wrote an op-ed for Business Insider in which he said we could expect something of that nature in the next decade.
Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year.
And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10-15 years.
The Gates aren’t the only people trying to warn the world of the serious risks of infectious diseases, experts are also advocating for more awareness of the issue.
George Poste, an ex officio member of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense told Business Insider:
We are coming up on the centenary of the 1918 influenza pandemic. We’ve been fortunately spared anything on that scale for the past 100 years, but it is inevitable that a pandemic strain of equal virulence will emerge.
Quite what form this outbreak will take, however, is uncertain. However, Poste thinks a serious bioterrorism attack isn’t as likely as a naturally occurring pathogen simply because of the complexity of creating something like that.
If you want to think back to what a viral outbreak might look like, then take a look at the outbreaks of Ebola and Zika. They have provided clear evidence that we need better technologies to monitor and prevent disease outbreaks.
They also provide a stark warning of what an outbreak would look like in a world where we are powerless to stop it.
One of the most important things in these scenarios is to make sure that we catch the outbreak before it becomes too widespread.
Post also told Business Insider that we need to improve diagnostic tests and become more adept at developing vaccines.
Melinda Gates, however, said that in order to properly protect against a bioterrorism event, we should have an institution like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with a particular focus on bioterror.
Whatever the road we take, what is clear is that the risk of such an event is greater than most realise.