In 2015, Bill Gates was featured on an episode of the popular TED Talks series. Dr. Shaun Peck, a well-remembered public health official in BC, reminded me of the event a few days ago when we exchanged emails about our current battle with COVID-19. He suggested I take a look and listen, which I did, and now I suggest you do the same.
If you heard Gates’ warning of pending pandemic danger and his plan for global preparedness, you might recall he subsequently donated multi-millions of dollars for research to try and find a vaccination for a disease getting ready to pounce. And, after all this, you may be wondering why it has taken so long to wake the rest of us up to the threat.
It’s easy for pundits, like me, to shrug and point out the failure of governments to listen to Gates while carefully removing ourselves from any possible shadow of blame or hint of responsibility.
What could we have done if we had taken heed of the warnings of Gates and others five years ago and possibly before that?
When such events come in the shape of fire and flood, humans do a pretty good job of organizing help and providing care and support. Fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves – we have seen them all, and up to now, we have fought back and survived.
We could have joined a then-small chorus of concern to let our politicians know we expected them to lead and protect. We have had ample opportunity in the past five years. Locally, provincially, regionally and nationally, we have chosen teams of men and women to run our affairs and safeguard us – sometimes from ourselves and human intransigence, and always when what we call “nature” throws an ugly and deadly curve our way.
We don’t do so well when the natural disaster involves the unknown, but even there our men and women of medicine over the years have won a few and will win more. However, they can only do that if our political leaders “listen to the science” and “we the people” make sure they are listening to the science not the politics. Unfortunately, we the people are not as alert as we might be or as anxious we should be to take action.
In most countries in the world governments have been listening to doctors and scientists and rational politicians. But not in the United States of America where political power ranks with great personal wealth as the height of ambition. In the US of A we see one of the greatest nations in the world for advanced thinking and scientific research, fearful in the face of pandemic and with a President seemingly incapable of rational decisions.
His first major was a few months back when China announced the shutdown of an entire city and the immediate area surrounding it in and attempt to control the outbreak of Covid-19, President Trump immediately ordered closure of land, sea and air travel connections between China and the USA — and has since praised himself many times for his travel ban decision.
His critics have not been so kind. They have pointed out that Covid-19 was already established in New York, brought to that US city from China via Italy and/or German. The Governor of New York State welcomed the China travel ban but put it in timetable with this blunt comment: “He closed the front door – but left the back door wide open.” And Covid-19 got settled in with all the current irritation and dangers before, too late, the world tried to shut all the doors.
My voice of conscience on public health, Dr. Peck, suggested I catch up with the several books by Laurie Garrett, paying particular attention to Betrayal of Trust – The Collapse of Global Public Health and an article by the same author published recently in the international medical journal The Lancet, to be found at : http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIISO140’-6736(20)30600-0/fulltext
This following final item, stumbled across while looking for other things, is too good to let slip by unnoticed. It is from President Donald Trump’s 1987 book “The Art of the Deal” – which should have had a sub-heading “How to Manipulate the Press.”
In one chapter this imitation pearl of dubious honesty shines through: “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to peoples’ fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration – and a very effective form of promotion.”
Whatever you say, Donald.