High-income nations could avoid a high rate of COVID-19 infections in the months ahead with proper testing and social distancing measures, Bill Gates said in a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
A number of the questions from Reddit users addressed the best ways to contain the spread of the virus, with questions about social distancing, as well as testing, and the lack of availability of tests.
Gates highlighted in response to one question about testing rates in Seattle that he hopes the US government will have better organized testing systems in place in the next few weeks.
“We need to democratize and scale the testing system by having a CDC [the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] website that people go to and enter their situation,” Gates said. “Priority situations should get tested within 24 hours. This is very possible since many countries have done it."
Health care workers and the elderly should have priority, Gates said, adding that testing will give leaders better control over the pandemic response.
“We will be able to catch up on the testing demand within a few weeks of getting the system in place,” he said. “Whenever there is a positive test it should be seen to understand where the disease is and whether we need to strengthen the social distancing.”
Gates encouraged Reddit users to ask him what they wanted to know about coronavirus, and answered as many questions from the public as possible.
Questions included what about the current crisis worried him the most, as well as what gave him the most hope. He was also asked about the ongoing global efforts to develop a vaccine and the estimated 18-month timeline — which he said was a "great question."
"There are over six different efforts going on to make a vaccine," he said. "We will have to build lots of manufacturing for the different approaches, knowing that some of them will not work."
"We will need literally billions of vaccines to protect the world," Gates continuned. "Vaccines require testing to make sure they are safe and effective... The first vaccines will go to health care workers and critical workers. This could happen before 18 months if everything goes well, but we...are being careful not to promise this when we are not sure. The work is going at full speed."
The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft has donated millions to global public health issues through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a 2015 TED Talk, Gates warned that the world was not ready for a virus outbreak — raised by Gates when asked what first step we as a global community should take after the COVID-19 pandemic comes to a close, to ensure we're better prepared for future health crises.
"The TED talk I did in 2015 talked about this," he said. "We need to have the ability to scale up diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines very rapidly. The technologies exist to do this well if the right investments are made."
"Countries can work together on this," he highlighted. "We did create CEPI [the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation] which did some work on vaccines but that needs to be funded at a higher level to have the standby manufacturing capacity for the world."
Gates was also asked about what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — known as a leading organization in global health efforts — is doing to help the current pandemic response.
He answered that the Foundation "is working with all the groups who make diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines to make sure the right efforts are prioritized."
"We want to make sure all countries get access to these tools," he continued. "We donated $100 million in February for a variety of things and we will be doing more. One priority is to make sure that there is enough manufacturing capacity for therapeutics and vaccines. We have other efforts like our education group working to make sure the online resources for students are as helpful as they can be."
When asked what Americans could do to help other Americans — although the answer applies globally — Gates replied, “A big thing is to go along with the ‘shut down’ approach in your community so that the infection rate drops dramatically to let us go back to normal as soon as possible."
"Some people like health care workers will be doing heroic work and we need to support them," he added. "We do need to stay calm even though this is an unprecedented situation."
And finally, when asked when it would all end, Gates highlighted the absolute need for a vaccine.
"Many rich countries will be able to keep the number of cases small (including the US) if they do the right things, but developing countries will find it very difficult to stop the spread so a vaccine is critical," he said. "A group called GAVI [the Vaccine Alliance] helps buy vaccines for developing countries and they will play a key role once we have a vaccine being made in volume."
You can join the global efforts against coronavirus by taking action through our Together At Home campaign. You can call on world leaders to contribute funding to the efforts; spread the word on social media about the World Health Organization's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund; support efforts in Europe to protect refugees from coronavirus; and learn more about coronavirus and how to keep yourself healthy.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.
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Disclosure: Bill Gates is the co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a funding partner of Global Citizen.
Editor's note: This piece has been updated to include a disclosure that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is a funding partner of Global Citizen. We regret the oversight.