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18 Feb, 2017 19:53

30mn people dead in a year: Bill Gates warns of potential bioterrorism dangers in next 15 years

30mn people dead in a year: Bill Gates warns of potential bioterrorism dangers in next 15 years

The next deadly worldwide epidemic could happen at the hand of a terrorist, employing biotechnology for an attack, Bill Gates has warned at the Munich Security Conference. The Microsoft founder also compared the pandemic to nuclear war and climate change.

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,”  he warned in a speech published by Business Insider.

“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,” he warned.

Gates said the link between health security and international security is underestimated adding that governments are not paying enough attention to this threat. “We ignore the link between health security and international security at our peril."

The absence of deadly epidemics in recent history shouldn’t lull the world into a false sense of security as such “doomsday scenarios” can occur. Gates reminded the audience of the scale of the 1918 flu pandemic which infected around 500 million people and claimed between 50-100 million lives according to various estimates.

“Most of the things we need to do to protect against a naturally occurring pandemic are the same things we must prepare for an intentional biological attack.”

The catastrophic consequences of a pandemic are comparable to nuclear war and climate change, Gates believes. “I view the threat of deadly pandemics right up there with nuclear war and climate change.”

He added that proper preparation could mitigate the risks. Such readiness includes the creation of a medical “arsenal of new weapons” to counter various epidemics. He said people need to “prepare for epidemics the way the military prepares for war,” such as, conducting exercises to understand viruses’ behavior. Last year, the US government conducted a similar experiment, releasing “gas” in the New York subway.

Reducing the time for creating a vaccine, surveillance and cooperation improvement are also among necessary requirements to tackle a pandemic, according to Gates. Lack of proper preparation can cost up to $570 billion annually, he added. 

Gates' speech at the Munich conference is not the first time the billionaire has voiced concerns about bioterrorism. In January, he warned about the potential dangers of bioterrorism during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Speaking to BBC radio in December 2016, Gates spoke about human vulnerabilities to fast-spreading diseases.