Bill Gates has 99 problems and money can, probably, solve all of them. One of them, however, requires more than just a blank cheque. In a recent TED conference, Gates addressed the possibility of another global catastrophe and how it could leave us more unprepared than ever. In a talk dedicated to epidemics, Gates gave factual references to the Ebola virus and the dreadful Spanish flu. Thanks to a large number of dedicated volunteers and some luck, the Ebola virus was less calamitous as compared to the 1918 influenza, but every day is not Sunday and the next outbreak could very well be worse.

One would think that with all the advancements in biotechnology, avoiding a global crisis similar to that of 1918 cannot be difficult. This is where we are mistaken. A single case of a virulent flu can be enough to jeopardize the living conditions and economy of an entire country. Worse in the case of African or other third-world countries. The gravity of the epidemic is increased by slow and unprepared responses. Although, the outbreak of a disease is not under the control of man, establishing a proper response system is.

First and foremost, there is a critical need to improve the public health-care systems. Countries with stronger health systems are able to respond quickly. The sufferers, in this case too, are the third-world countries that neglect public-health care systems until they are no longer effective. This will not only allow countries to detect and respond to epidemics during their initial stages, but will also bring about an improvement in the health sector as a whole. Good health and immunity is key to reducing the effectiveness of epidemics, thus, providing countries with a legitimate reason to invest in improving and developing health-care systems.

Along with investment in health-care systems, countries need to invest in better surveillance and laboratory testing capacity. Routine disease surveillance systems will detect early signs of an outbreak in a country. Despite early reports of Ebola in Western Africa, there weren't sufficient resources on standby to enter the area and carry out sampling to determine the severity of the outbreak. Even after the outbreak was recognised, there weren't enough resources available to reduce its effectiveness. The surveillance systems could work in accordance with the health-care system and the data derived from sampling results should instantly be released to the general public.

Data is another key issue that needs to be taken care of. During the Ebola epidemic, the database that was used for tracking cases was rarely accurate. Mostly due to the situation being chaotic, but also because much of the case reporting has been done on paper and then sent to a central location for data entry. Lack of data systems combined with failures to invest in effective drugs and vaccines assisted in the deaths of more than 10 thousand people in the affected areas of West Africa.

According to Gates, the answer to these problems lies within our minds - ingenuity and innovation. It is clear that a lot is being done and a lot still needs to be done before we can consider ourselves to be prepared. Costly, yes, but nothing in comparison to global misery. Preventing global catastrophes is worth all our time, attention and money.