Bill and Melinda Gates

Bill Gates has warned that the world will need to react more quickly next time there is a deadly outbreak similar to Ebola, arguing the disease would have spread more widely were it not for “a bit of luck”.

The billionaire philanthropist praised the US and other countries for providing aid to the affected countries in west Africa but said “the speed of those resources becoming available wouldn’t have been adequate if this had been more infectious”.

“This almost spread to Nigeria but then the resources got focused and they made sure it got quenched. There was a bit of luck in it not spreading more,” Mr Gates said in an interview with the Financial Times.

The former Microsoft chief executive made the comments as he published the annual letter for the charitable foundation he runs with his wife, Melinda, which outlined a series of ambitious goals for improving the lives of people in poorer countries by 2030.

Now that the number of new Ebola infections is falling, countries and aid agencies must learn how to “respond faster” next time by ensuring that lists of volunteers are available more quickly and by using experimental new drugs at an earlier stage, he said.

“There are many pathogens out there that are much worse — even more infectious than Ebola,” he added.

Mr Gates also announced the creation of “Global Citizen”, a new social network for volunteers and activists who want to become more involved in the fight against global poverty.

“People want to stand for more than just themselves or their country. They want to think about how they’re connected to something that is lifting up those in the toughest situations,” he said, predicting the network could lead to 10 times more global activists.

The 2015 annual letter is the seventh Mr and Mrs Gates have published since they launched their foundation in 2000. In it they strike an optimistic tone and predict that the “lives of poorer people will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any time in history”.

Mr Gates said that progress in addressing global inequality over the past 15 years had been “phenomenal” but that the incremental achievements had been overshadowed by individual disasters or setbacks.

“There is no awareness because the improvements take place one life at a time — a bit better nutrition, a bit better health.

“The earthquake or the airline crash is the headline, but going from 13m infant deaths a year in 1990 to 6.5m — when did that get mentioned?”

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