Bill Gates is a smart guy, who knows something about global health. So when he gives a grave warning about a potential catastrophe, it’s a good idea to listen. Yesterday, at the Munich security conference, the man who tops the FORBES richest person in the world list and Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said:
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 to 15 years.
Notice that this was at a security conference and not a health meeting. Therefore, he could have focused on some other issue such as nuclear weapons or climate change. But Gates chose to focus on infectious disease threats, whether they start naturally or are manufactured as a bio-terrorist weapon, for good reason. Our society is in need of a good wake up call and slap in the face.
Our society is woefully under-prepared for a bad pandemic. This was obvious in 2009 when I and Shawn Brown, PhD, Director of Public Health Applications at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), were embedded in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to use our computational models to help with the national response to the H1N1 influenza pandemic. People in HHS were working very hard each day to mobilize the national response. However, the external resistance that they encountered was troubling. Many external parties put their own individual or business interests in front of national security and were reluctant to share information. Some of the general public questioned whether the pandemic existed and even raised a number of conspiracy theories. Fortunately, the virus was not as harmful as initially thought. However, a more virulent strain could have been disastrous.
The next epidemic of focus was the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to the overuse of antibiotics and lack of proper infection control in many health care facilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with efforts led by John Jernigan, MD, MS and Rachel Slayton, PhD, and other public health agencies have been working to combat this epidemic with health care facilities and researchers such as our RHEA (Regional Healthcare Analyst) computational modeling team that includes Susan Huang, MD, MPH of the University of California-Irvine, Sarah Bartsch, MPH of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Dr. Brown, Kim Wong, PhD of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Simulation and Modeling, and Loren Miller, MD and Jamie McKinnell, MD of UCLA. While some advances have been made, lack of resources for infection control practice and research remains a challenge, antibiotic overuse has continued, and relatively few antibiotics are under development. As I have stated previously, this continues to be a crisis as our society may eventually run out of antibiotics that work against bacteria.
Next up was Ebola. Suddenly Ebola gained attention (even though it had been around for years) because the number of cases increased beyond previous years and concerns arose that the pathogen may spread to the U.S. Suddenly, people were saying, “quick, we need a vaccine”, again even though the disease had been around for many years. As stated in our Lancet piece, the world was just not ready for an Ebola vaccine. I recall during the Paul G Allen Family Foundation Ebola Innovation Summit seeing many people around the room who had not even heard of Ebola a year ago, saying we need to eliminate this disease with a naive optimism that this was possible so quickly. As I tried to explain to a founder of a major dot.com at the meeting, creating a successful website is not the same as combating an infectious disease. Fortunately, the Ebola epidemic eventually dissipated. No vaccines or new technologies were available to help with this epidemic. If the Ebola epidemic had persisted, things could have gotten much worse.
As David Peters, MD, DrPH, Chair of International Health at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health explains in the following video, many major systems problems contributing to the Ebola epidemic still remain and could easily lead to future epidemics:
Source: SANS ISC SecNewsFeed @ February 18, 2017 at 10:51PM