Bill Gates: World needs global response system for outbreaks

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates is issuing a call to action for countries around the world to create an international response system for future outbreaks, which he said would address the “global failure” to combat Ebola.

As the death toll for Ebola continues to rise, Gates is urging governments and international organizations like the United Nations and NATO to seize the momentum and adopt a new global health strategy.

Gates laid out a blueprint for the global response system Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. His plan focuses on creating a central international institution and building up the basic health systems in poor countries – an ambitious and costly plan that he says would take years of work.

“As the Ebola epidemic fades from the world's attention, we risk missing the opportunity to learn from it,” Gates wrote. “There is a significant chance that an epidemic of a substantially more infectious disease will occur sometime in the next 20 years.”

A central part of the strategy is a “global institution” to coordinate all outbreak-related efforts. This body would must be “given enough authority and funding to be effective,” Gates wrote.

That organization would assume many the roles of the United Nations’ health arm, the World Health Organization (WHO), which has faced heavy criticism for its sometimes lagging response to Ebola. Gates describe the WHO’s current response network as “severely understaffed and underfunded.”

His plan would also increase disease-surveillance abilities and laboratory capacity in poor countries, as well as create a stockpile of needed supplies. He also called for countries to maintain a “pool of volunteers” who can be immediately brought in to deal with an outbreak, as well as a trained group of military personnel.

Gates also stresses the need for more research to create new vaccines and treatments. He specifically points to the lack of universal vaccine for influenza, which he said needs a far larger investment.

“There is work being done toward this goal, but it has garnered nowhere near the resources that it deserves,” he said.

He said the response network could also address a potential biothreat.