According to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), epidemics cost the world between $570 billion and $4 trillion every year, depending on how severe the outbreaks are. Considering the economic decline currently gripping so many countries across the globe this year due to Covid, it’s easy to see why. What’s not that easy to understand is why this pandemic was not more widely anticipated. Over the past 20 years, SARS and MERS outbreaks were lethal warnings that an international pandemic like this is not only possible, but likely.

Learning From History

It’s crucial that we look back and learn. Take the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa as an example. Even though a vaccine had been in development for over a decade, the outbreak took over a year to contain. As the crisis continued, Bill Gates rationalized that the disease eventually contained itself due to the high mortality rate. According to Gates, the illness was so severe that victims were already unable to move around by the time they were contagious. At the time, he stressed the risk of a virus with less severe symptoms, which would result in increased infection because people would feel well enough to move around while they are contagious.

Can Pandemics Be Prevented or Handled Better?

Yes, this is possible through change-making philanthropy, and Bill Gates is a pioneer of this type of altruism. Gates has made massive contributions to private philanthropy focused on disease prevention and control by launching and managing several organizations that harness the private sector in raising funds for diseases, such as the Global Health Investment Fund. Gates has been committed to tackling infectious disease for years and has diverted resources to developing a Covid-19 vaccine.

The type of philanthropy Gates is engaged in drives change through redefining true altruism. His high risk, high-reward approach is similar to an early-stage business venture and involves building expertise on what will result in long-term change while putting in the capital to fund it. It’s about nurturing time and expertise in alignment with the investment while not expecting financial returns. Without the pressure for gains, philanthropists are able to direct resources to long-term solutions to global issues, like the lurking threat of pandemics. The effort made by Gates is beyond conventional charity and can be considered as change-making philanthropy. And he’s not the first philanthropist to take this approach.

people on street with masks

J.D. Rockefeller: One of History’s Greatest Givers

J.D. Rockefeller gave away over $500 million, most of it went to medicine. Taking inflation into consideration, this would be around $8 billion today. His actions paved the way for generations after him to follow a similar philanthropic path. Rockefeller-supported philanthropic entities have been instrumental in developing vaccines for diseases like yellow fever and in providing vaccinations to soldiers in World War I.

Even though we’ve faced dreaded diseases like MERS, SARS, and Ebola in recent years, the world was not prepared for Covid-19. To make sure that we’re better prepared for any future threats, the world has to embrace a new type of philanthropy that tackles urgent existing health crisis. High-risk funding from organizations focused on genuine change, instead of risk-averse funding is crucial.