Bill and Melinda Gates said the COVID-19 pandemic will be the 'defining event' for this generation

  • The Gates Foundation on Wednesday published its annual letter, "The year global health went local."
  • Bill and Melinda Gates said pandemic preparedness is as serious as "the threat of war."
  • Stopping the next pandemic will take "tens of billions of dollars per year," they wrote. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Bill and Melinda Gates on Wednesday urged wealthy nations to share their COVID-19 vaccine doses, research findings, and health funding with the world, saying in their annual Gates Foundation letter that the coronavirus pandemic will be the "defining event" for a generation.

The Gates Foundation's official name is The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and it was set up in 2000.

"Just as World War II was the defining event for our parents' generation, the coronavirus pandemic we are living through right now will define ours," the pair wrote in their 2021 letter, "The year global health went local." 

WWII led to greater international cooperation, with countries working together to "protect the peace and prioritize the common good." The pandemic could have a similar result, they said. 

Read more: 32 books Bill Gates thinks everyone should read if they want to get smarter about business, philosophy, and science

"Everything depends on whether the world comes together to ensure that the lifesaving science developed in 2020 saves as many lives as possible in 2021," the pair wrote.

The Gates Foundation leaders used their letter to ask two big-picture questions. First, they asked whether the world can emerge from the pandemic "more equal" than it had been previously. Second, they asked whether it was too soon to begin planning for the next pandemic. 

"The unfortunate reality is that COVID-19 might not be the last pandemic," they wrote. 

The next pandemic may be a flu, coronavirus, or a type of disease that hasn't yet been identified. The threat will "always be hanging over our heads," according to the letter.

It will take planning and funding to stop that future pandemic quickly. 

The worldwide cost of COVID-19 is about $28 trillion so far, according to an International Monetary Fund estimate. Planning for the next pandemic would require an investment of "tens of billions of dollars per year," the Gates Foundation said. 

Pandemic planning should be taken as seriously as the threat of war," the letter said. 

"If you live in a rich country, it's in your best interest for your government to go big on pandemic preparedness around the world," the couple wrote in their letter. 

Bill Gates, who is America's biggest owner of private farmland, is among the world's richest people. Only Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, have more money. The Microsoft billionaire helped fund new factories to make coronavirus vaccines.

Gates last week praised President Joe Biden for taking action to move the US back onto the world stage, including rejoining the Paris climate accord. 

He said on Twitter: "The President's commitment to reengage with the world gives me hope that the recovery will reach everyone, including communities of color in the US and people in poor countries around the world." 

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