In his extremely stupid book on How to Prevent the Next Pandemic, Bill Gates proposed expanding the World Health Organisation with a division of pandemic shock troops called the Global Epidemic Response and Mobilisation team, or GERM. He envisioned a crack unit of 3,000 diversely talented technocrats who could be airdropped into a developing outbreak anywhere in the world and handle everything from subverting local human rights to sequencing random genomes. He was also very emphatic that he wanted more pandemic wargames, because they’re fun events where he gets to hobnob with his favourite virus wizards and pose as an important philanthropist for the cameras.
Gates’s latest opinion piece in the New York Times now suggests that the WHO has talked him into a compromise:
I’m optimistic about a network that the WHO and its partners are building called the Global Health Emergency Corps. This network of the world’s top health emergency leaders will work together to get ready for the next pandemic. Just as firefighters run drills to practice responding to a fire, the Emergency Corps plans to run drills to practice for outbreaks. The exercises will make sure that everyone — governments, health care providers, emergency health workers — knows what to do when a potential outbreak emerges.
One of the most important jobs of the corps will be to take quick action to stop the spread of a pathogen. The speed of action requires countries to have large-scale testing capabilities that identify potential threats early. …
To be successful, the Emergency Corps must build on existing networks of experts and be led by people like the heads of national public health agencies and their leads for epidemic response. …
The next pandemic could emerge anywhere, and so the Emergency Corps must have expertise from every corner of the globe …
I believe the W.H.O. remains our best tool for helping countries stop disease outbreaks, and the Global Health Emergency Corps will represent massive progress toward a pandemic-free future. The question is whether we have the foresight to invest in that future now before it’s too late.
Emphasis mine: Gates will get his wargames, and he’ll get some kind of pandemic response corps, but it won’t be called GERM and it’s not going to be anywhere near 3,000 strong. I imagine these will be a few dozen fundraisers who pretend to defeat viruses on TV.
That said, there is literally no universe in which obsessing about viruses and wargaming outbreaks will ensure a pandemic-free future. Pandemics are social constructs, which we will into being via our ridiculous safetyist policy choices, and the more we make viruses an object of media spectacle and cultural anxiety, the more we leave ourselves open to a bleak pandemicised future of one virus scare after the other.
Berenson is right – the man is a menace.
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