“. . . There was a simulation called Dark Winter that didn’t come out very well, i.e., smallpox scored one and humanity scored zero.” Microsoft founder Bill Gates at Davos, Switzerland, January 2017.
Video courtesy of Business Insider, January 18, 2017, 2 min, 35 seconds, link here
(Have I ever told you that while my husband was helping to eradicate smallpox in Africa soldiers terrorized our five-year-old son? Well, today’s post is from him.)
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Gates’ remarks at Davos a year ago are part of a larger effort by the philanthropist. He seeks to persuade those with the power to make or break national policy that it’s no longer possible for nation states to focus on international security issues without addressing “health security.”
And it’s no longer possible for countries to go it alone.
In an op-ed published to coincide with his address to the Munich Security Conference last year, Mr. Gates reminded world leaders that health-based security threats thrive in politically insecure environments and that they show little regard for national borders:
“War zones and other fragile state settings are the most difficult places to eliminate epidemics. They’re also some of the most likely places for them to begin—as we’ve seen with Ebola in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and with cholera in the Congo Basin and the Horn of Africa.
“It’s also true that 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.
“The point is, we ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril. 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.”
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Gates said, “I view the threat of deadly pandemics right up there with nuclear war and climate change.”
Smallpox concerns Mr. Gates more than a lot of other health threats. As the Telegraph explained, before a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London (RUSI), he “warned that an outbreak of a lethal respiratory virus such as smallpox would be more dangerous than even a nuclear attack.
“Mr Gates, whose charitable foundation funds research into quickly spotting outbreaks, said it was more important than ever to help foreign countries monitor diseases to prevent a global tragedy.
“Bioterrorism is a much larger risk than a pandemic,” he said.
“All these advances in biology have made it far easier for a terrorist to recreate smallpox, which is a highly fatal pathogen, where there is essentially no immunity remaining at this point.
“When you are thinking about things that could cause in excess of 10 million deaths, even something tragic like a nuclear weapons incident wouldn’t get to that level. So the greatest risk is from a natural epidemic or an intentionally caused infection bioterrorism event.
“Whether the next epidemic is unleashed by a quirk of nature or the hand of terrorist, scientists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year. So the world does need to think about this.”
But the world has thought about this before. A dozen years ago – and for quite similar reasons – renewed interest in smallpox research added the matter to the global agenda.
Michael Gross reported in Current Biology that “. . . smallpox isn’t just any old disease. While its eradication at the end of the 1970s is undeniably the WHO’s greatest triumph, smallpox is also one of the most infectious deadly diseases in humans and one of the oldest bioweapons, as its use against Native Americans has been recorded in 1760.”
What will the world decide this time around?
To see a recent social media pitch for Vaccines & Bayonets: Fighting Smallpox in Africa amid Tribalism, Terror and the Cold War click here:
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When readers find out about some of what Charles and our daughter went through, they might have an idea why Charles has long cared about political violence and international security matters. Cared enough to research and write about them.
Because smallpox has found its way back into the international security discussion, he penned today’s blog post.” Here’s his bio and contact info: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charlesbloeser/
Bill Gates’ thoughts are sobering. They lead me into my next post. In it we again visit a woman in Nigeria whom I met on a road just south of the Sahara. And we see how the smallpox virus wreaked havoc–in one body after another in an unbroken chain of transmission.
Thank you for visiting my blog again. I hope you gain something from it and the other pages in this website.