Who is preparing for GATE 2016?
Microsoft founder Bill Gates"We are the least prepared for a pandemic"
You can hear the interview in the original English language.
Klaus Remme: Mr. Gates, you have been involved in health issues for a long time. But why at the security conference with defense ministers and generals?
Bill Gates: World health is an amazing success story. The generosity of countries like Germany and the provision of funding has meant that we have halved child mortality. But now there is an immense risk to us that a huge pandemic could break out.
Then we would need security personnel with airplanes and capacities in order to deal with the instability that then arises and to be able to deliver these additional drugs quickly. When discussing with them, we need simulations, we need suitable partnerships so that we are prepared for the outbreak of the next pandemic, which in all likelihood could be dramatically larger than Ebola itself was.
"So we've actually only been lucky so far"
Remme: There was a lot of talk in Munich about military threats. Climate protection was also on the agenda. Compared to that, how serious is the risk of a pandemic?
Gates: I would say the highest likelihood of seeing tens of millions more deaths in the coming decades would come from an epidemic. You know, of the three nightmares that make me concerned, nuclear war, pandemic, and climate change, it is the pandemic that we have been least prepared for. So that's a real problem.
Remme: Why do you say we are not much better prepared for a pandemic than we were 100 years ago?
Gates: Well, what makes it worse is that people are traveling around the world more than ever before. In 1918, for example, the Spanish flu killed more people than the First World War, partly because people were returning from the war. If the flu should break out here now, it would spread much faster than in 1918. So we've actually only been lucky so far. There is, on a human level, a likelihood that we will face such a problem, and flu is by no means the only possible source of risk.
"You need research and development for the new tools"
Remme: So how do you prepare for the pandemic threat?
Gates: First of all, the most important thing is good basic health care and supervision. Then you will be able to get the first results quickly. Then you need research and development on the new tools, including diagnostic methods, new drugs and vaccines. That's a big part of the solution, so you could get the funds you need in months instead of years.
Then you would need clear application protocols on how to access these skills. After all, you need medical and military personnel to use all of these aids - even under unstable conditions, when transport options are impaired, or when panic breaks out: that these people are then deployed together so that they work together helping the population and ensuring that the epidemic does not spread before it has infected the whole world.
Remme: Have we learned from Ebola?
Gates: Not too much, but quite a bit, and I really have to praise Germany here. Because here the problem is now on the agenda. And while we are already talking about it: We also have to look at what is actually being done. But there is a concrete measure in this direction, where Germany is also part, together with Norway, Japan, our foundation and the "Wellcome Trust". This is an alliance to develop some epidemic vaccines. We raised $ 515 million for this. We want to use it to develop novel vaccines that work much faster. While this is only part of the solution, it is a very positive new development that was announced in January.
"We are certainly worried"
Remme: Research and development are often privately and state financed. Have you received any signals from the new US administration that cuts are imminent?
Gates: We do not know that. I am certainly concerned that the research and development funds for health care and development aid, which have done so much good in the fight against HIV and where the US has proven to be very generous, will continue to exist. We have succeeded in distributing medicines to the sick and saving millions of lives. I and others will do everything to ensure that these resources or priorities are maintained and expanded. We do not know whether all of this will happen. We are certainly worried about it.
Remme: Were you able to speak to Donald Trump after his election victory? Did he give you commitments?
Gates: Yes, I had an opportunity to meet him. At that time he was not yet busy working out his budget. He had to get used to it. I spoke to him about how to ensure stability in Africa in every possible way, how to maintain the economies so that one could help countries fight the outbreak of such epidemics, and I told him that is really a wise thing in the long run, very beneficial for America, and that we should be really proud of what we have achieved. I hope he continues this tradition, but there were no commitments.
"This international cooperation makes sense"
Remme: The security conference traditionally revolves around transatlantic relations. Europeans are alarmed by Donald Trump. You are an American, you live in the United States. Do you understand the unrest? Are you alarmed?
Gates: I think we should be worried. On this issue, we must explain to all voters why this international cooperation makes sense, and how useful it is. It worked. We can of course always improve. But these partnerships were fantastic. I think their success is sometimes so great that the more people lose sight of it, the more successfully you work.
Especially on the eve of the Second World War, it was even more obvious that such cooperation was necessary. All signs pointed to the need for an appropriate trade policy, a good immigration policy and the need for cooperation. It was clear that we are all better off when we have something like that. And I think in the long run the US will continue this relationship, but it has all been the subject of discussion.
Remme: Mr. Gates, thank you very much.
Gates: Thank you!
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt statements made by its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
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