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Talking about the last pandemic at TED – Gates Notes

By Bill Gates | April 22, 2022

Last week, I went to the TED conference in Vancouver. It was my first time back at TED since 2015, when I gave a speech about how the world wasn’t ready for the next epidemic.

A lot of people watched that talk, but almost all of the views came after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, I spoke about the same subject, but a lot had changed. No one in the audience needed to be convinced that a deadly virus could kill millions of people around the world and upend our lives.

My talk was all about how we can make COVID-19 the last pandemic. I believe we can eliminate the threat of pandemics completely if we approach infectious diseases like we approach fires. We need a well-oiled system in place, complete with full-time professional personnel and innovative tools ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

You can watch my full talk here:

Giving a TED talk is always a memorable (and nerve-wracking!) experience. I started thinking about what I wanted to say a couple months ago. I decided to focus on what I call the GERM—Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization—team, a new full-time, paid group whose entire job is to prepare for the next outbreak. I talk a lot about GERM in my upcoming book, but this was the first time I was going to speak about GERM publicly at length.

One of the coolest things about TED is how visual all the talks are. I had the opportunity to make sure the graphics for mine looked okay during a rehearsal. I also got to practice bringing the Roman fire brigade bucket I was using as a prop onto the stage. (It’s a lot heavier than it looks!)

On the morning of my talk, I made sure to find some quiet time backstage to review my notes. I believe that this moment in time—two-plus years into the pandemic, as COVID slowly becomes endemic and the acute phase comes to an end—is a crucial one for pandemic prevention. We need to convince the world to get ready for another pandemic while COVID-19 is still fresh in everyone’s minds.

When the time came to give the actual talk, I was ready and excited to speak about GERM. There’s currently no full-time international team of experts standing by to respond to an outbreak as soon as one emerges. If we’re going to prevent the next pandemic, the world needs the infectious disease equivalent of firefighters—a group of in-country and global epidemiologists, data scientists, logistics experts, and more who are ready to go anywhere in the world on a moment’s notice.

We also put on an exhibit at TED called “The Last Pandemic.” The concept was simple: What if you could visit a museum exhibit about the last pandemic the world ever faced—COVID-19—fifty years in the future? What memories and artifacts from the last two years would be in it? And what would it reveal about how we created a world free from the threat of pandemics?

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design)