Photo of Bill Gates: AP Images
Photo of Bill Gates: AP Images

U.S. business magnate Bill Gates will invest 855 million kroner (101 million U.S. dollars) and the Norwegian government one billion kroner (118 million U.S. dollars) to develop vaccines against epidemics, newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday.

This was announced both by Gates and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg during World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday afternoon, the report said.

The initial investment in the newly formed Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) will be of around four billion kroner. In addition to the Norwegian government and the foundation of Bill and Melinda Gates, there is also the British Wellcome foundation that will invest 855 million kroner, as well as Japan and Germany.

“The time that you have to come up with something to reduce the spread of deadly infectious diseases is quite short. And historically, it takes years to develop new vaccines. By the time they are ready, it is already too late,” Gates told Aftenposten.

“The most critical is flu epidemic. The amount of damage in that case could be completely unimaginable. The best known is the Spanish flu in 1917 where you had a death rate of five percent in many countries. Mortality was higher than during WWI,” he said.

In such a scenario, according to the report, 30 million could die during 12 months. In case people take vaccine during 22 weeks, the figure will be much more than halved. In case it got ready within six weeks, the number of deaths could be reduced to more than 20,000.

The initiative comes in the wake of the ebola epidemic that took more than 11,000 lives in 2014 and 2015. The epidemic exposed the serious deficiencies in global preparedness against epidemics and pandemics.

“Both ebola and zika showed that the world was tragically unprepared to identify local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from being global pandemics,” Gates said.

CEPI director John-Arne Rottingen pointed out that there is no commercial market for the development of vaccines against some types of epidemics that particularly threaten developing countries. He said that, although ebola was discovered in 1976, there was no vaccine when the eruption happened in 2014.

CEPI will initially focus on three viruses – MERS, Nipah and Lassa – but this can be extended to cover other epidemics as well. Enditem

Source: Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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