Irony, Thy Name Is Bill Gates: The Surveillance Edition

So Bill Gates had this to say about infectious disease surveillance (boldface mine):

Most needed, Mr. Gates said, is a better system of global disease surveillance. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Gates Foundation have invested in helping countries build capacity for monitoring for outbreaks, and while surveillance for new flu strains is well developed, far more is needed for existing and emerging diseases, he said.

“With new tools, doing broad disease surveillance that’s better than we have been doing is it a very doable thing,” he said. “You can do a pretty good job literally for hundreds of millions, not billions of dollars a year.”

You have to gather samples on a systematic basis and send them to genetic analysis,” he said. “You have to take respiratory samples, diarrheal samples, on a regular basis and whenever you see elevations in death rates, then you have to have the capacity to oversample in those places.”

I remember, over a decade ago, that the Gates Foundation wouldn’t touch surveillance with a barge pole: it was essentially a four letter word. At the time, the Gates Foundation was the biggest private funder out there, and set the direction of public health.

It would have been nice if they had figured this out–that is, listened to the people who did this for a living–a decade ago.

Better late than never, I guess…

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2 Responses to Irony, Thy Name Is Bill Gates: The Surveillance Edition

  1. anthrosciguy says:

    That’s so often the “tech guy does charity” problem. They don’t listen to the people who do the thing the tech guy is jumping into. Maybe it’s the belief that disruption is good. Maybe it’s just being lazy. But the same problem turns up again and again. Gates did the same with education, as have so many others. The people on the ground doing the job now are presumed to be those with the least to offer.

  2. Alwayscurious says:

    Surveillance aside, “we” (Western industrialized governments) knew for months about the Ebola outbreak in Africa before choosing to actively help out. We need to connect productive action to known problems, that’s the real challenge. Watching an epidemic play out in more granular detail won’t help if we never lift a finger to stop it at the source.

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