The world’s richest man sends out a chilling warning: people by the tens of millions could get killed by bioterrorism — and no country is ready at present to face such monumental threat.
Bill Gates warned world leaders last Saturday at the Munich Security Conference that a genetically engineered virus could make it easier to kill more people than nuclear weapons could. He raised the same concern on bioterrorism at the World Economic Forum last January.
Genetically Engineered Terrorist Threats
Gates raised the dangers of ignoring the association between global security and health security.
“The next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus ... or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu,” warned the Microsoft cofounder, who has spent billions in philanthropic efforts focused on global health.
On his first appearance at the conference, Gates cited epidemiologists’ estimate that a “fast-moving airborne pathogen” could hit and kill over 30 million in less than a year — a likely outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years.
It already happened, Gates added, when a deadly, highly contagious flu strain killed 50 million to 100 million in 1918. A fatal global pandemic not happening recently should not be mistaken for proof that it will not take place in the future, he said.
“[E]ven if the next pandemic isn’t on the scale of the 1918 flu, we would be wise to consider the social and economic turmoil that might ensue if something like Ebola made its way into urban centers,” Gates explained.
Gearing Up For Battle
The tech billionaire’s co-panelists were in agreement with him.
“We have forgotten how catastrophic those epidemics have been,” said Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg, referring to the more rapid spread of violence and disease today than ever. She cited the Black Death that killed over half of the Norwegian population and paved the way for a two-century recession in Europe.
It’s only a matter of time for these events to occur again, according to WHO executive director Peter Salama, who called for ramping up preparedness across the world.
U.S. and UK intelligence offices have earlier warned that biological weapons are in development at Syrian and Iraqi bases, although they have downplayed the threat and assured that better skills and laboratories are needed by terrorists to carry out destruction plans.
Security experts are also not taking the threat of bioterrorism lightly, particularly with updates in molecular biology that makes it easier now to devise bio-weapons.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists seven biological agents as potential ingredients in a bioterrorist cocktail, including anthrax and bleeding fevers such as Ebola.
Gates, who along with his wife, founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, said that technological advances as well as new developments in drugs and vaccines could help prevent the spread of epidemics — the same things necessary to prepare for a biological attack, he said.
He stressed the importance of “innovation, cooperation, and careful planning” in stopping nuclear warfare, climate catastrophe, and global pandemics in their tracks.
Also recently, Gates delved on the issue of bots stealing human employment and believed that one should “tax the robots” despite being non-living entities.