What are the greatest global health threats facing humanity?

Larry Brilliant – American physician, epidemiologist, technologist, author and former director of Google’s philanthropic arm, – has an answer.

He divides the threats into two categories: “One, of course, would be the biology...the Ebola, Zika, bird flu, swine flu...But far more than that are the kind of centrifugal forces that are pulling us a part as a nation, pulling us apart as a world, the deterioration of all of the international and national organisations that we depend upon to keep us safe.”

Brilliant goes on to outline the failures of the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He also points to Donald Trump’s policies as a problem before adding, “On the biology side, in the last 30 years we’ve had 30 novel, heretofore unknown, diseases that jumped from animals to humans – they’re almost all viruses. In addition to Ebola and Zika and bird flu and swine flu we have coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, we have arboviruses and a lot of other viruses that continue to jump at the rate of about one a year.”

He ends by talking about a visit to the Google’s India headquarters in Hyderabad:

“I remember when I worked at Google I gave a talk to 3000 young Indian Googlers in Hyderabad and I asked them to raise their hand if their grandparents were vegetarian. They all raised their hand. Then I asked them to raise their hand if their parents were vegetarians and about half raised their hand. And then I asked them if they were vegetarians and no one raised their hand. And I think that leads to the increase in chickens and pigs that we’ve been seeing in China and India, not pigs so much in India. 

That means the kind of way in which in Asia, houses and farms are all together – you can go to Laos and see a pancake house that has pigs on the ground floor, chickens in the middle, and humans up on top. When pigs are eaten what’s left of them is fed to the chickens, and when the chickens are eaten what’s left of them is fed to the pigs. And of course everything is fed to humans. That’s like a natural virus experiment. You really wouldn’t want to do that if you were trying to keep the world safe from viruses...”