IMPACT

Bill And Melinda Gates: Autopsies Could Prevent Epidemics, Save Countless Lives

Bill Gates listens while his wife Melinda Gates talks during an interview in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. As the world
Bill Gates listens while his wife Melinda Gates talks during an interview in New York, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. As the world decides on the most crucial goals for the next 15 years in defeating poverty, disease and hunger, the $42 billion Gates Foundation announces its own ambitious agenda. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Bill and Melinda Gates believe that performing "minimal autopsies" on dead children could save countless lives.

Last week, the Gates Foundation announced that it was investing $75 million in a series of “disease surveillance sites” that will conduct post-mortem examinations on children in order to figure out “how, where and why children are getting sick and dying.” Dubbed the Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance Network, or CHAMPS, the program will initially be launched in six locations in Africa and South Asia.

“The world needs better, more timely public health data not only to prepare for the next epidemic, but to save children’s lives now,” said Bill Gates, per a news release. “Over the past 15 years, deaths of children in developing countries have been dramatically reduced, but to continue that trend for the next 15 years, we need more definitive data about where and why children are dying. This will also better position us to respond to other diseases that may turn into an epidemic.”

In a recent interview with OZY, the Microsoft co-founder explained how and why minimally-invasive autopsies could prevent the spread of disease and spot emerging epidemics.

“In poor countries, autopsies are not done. It takes too much skill and too much finance, and you wouldn’t get permission much,” Gates said. “But the idea that you can just gather a few samples that don’t cause any defacement [to the body], and see what was in the lungs, what was in the blood, what was in the stool, then we can ascribe the diarrheal death to a particular thing. That is so important as we decide what vaccines are needed, what antibiotics are needed, and see what’s going on with these diseases.”

Knowing what children are dying from could help pinpoint a new disease or nip an emerging epidemic in the bud. Gates said he believes that such a system could have proved exceedingly useful in the case of the recent Ebola epidemic, for instance.

CHAMPS “will help make the world a healthier, safer place,” Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The New York Times.

Convincing families to allow their children to be autopsied may be a challenge, but Melinda Gates said she believes it’s not an insurmountable one.

“[You need to] build the trust of the community,” she told OZY. “They don’t want to see more children die in their village … If you can explain how this benefits them, and benefits the global community, you can often make progress.”

Bill Gates told The Atlantic earlier this month that he hopes that CHAMPS will eventually have a presence in more locations around the world.

“We're hoping to get partners to come in so that instead of the six centers, we can have 20, and that would add dramatically to disease surveillance in poor countries. We need ongoing capability that's sampling places like Democratic Republic of Congo, where studies are done so irregularly that the uncertainty of what health is like there is very high,” he said.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • A woman reacts after a relative is suspected of dying from the Ebola virus, in the Liberian capital Monrovia
    PASCAL GUYOT via Getty Images
    A woman reacts after a relative is suspected of dying from the Ebola virus, in the Liberian capital Monrovia
  • Healthcare workers in protective gear work at an Ebola treatment center in the west of Freetown, Sierra Leone
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Healthcare workers in protective gear work at an Ebola treatment center in the west of Freetown, Sierra Leone
  • Three people suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus await treatment outside a hospital in the  Bomi County area, near
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Three people suspected of having contracted the Ebola virus await treatment outside a hospital in the Bomi County area, near Monrovia, Liberia
  • African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma washes her hands as she arrives in Conakry
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    African Union Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma washes her hands as she arrives in Conakry
  • A burial team in protective gear carry the body of woman suspected to have died from the Ebola virus in Monrovia, Liberia
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A burial team in protective gear carry the body of woman suspected to have died from the Ebola virus in Monrovia, Liberia
  • A healthcare worker in protective gear is seen at an Ebola treatment center in the west of Freetown, Sierra Leone
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A healthcare worker in protective gear is seen at an Ebola treatment center in the west of Freetown, Sierra Leone
  • Family members and neighbors said that she had been sick for more than a year with an undiagnosed illness and protested her b
    John Moore via Getty Images
    Family members and neighbors said that she had been sick for more than a year with an undiagnosed illness and protested her body being taken away as an Ebola victim.
  • Varney Jonson, 46, grieves as an Ebola burial team takes away the body of his wife Nama Fambule for cremation
    John Moore via Getty Images
    Varney Jonson, 46, grieves as an Ebola burial team takes away the body of his wife Nama Fambule for cremation
  • A team of funeral agents specialised in the burial of  victims of the Ebola virus carry a body prior to put it in a grave at
    FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR via Getty Images
    A team of funeral agents specialised in the burial of victims of the Ebola virus carry a body prior to put it in a grave at the Fing Tom cemetery in Freetown
  • A woman reacts after her husband is suspected of dying from the Ebola virus, in the Liberian capital Monrovia
    PASCAL GUYOT via Getty Images
    A woman reacts after her husband is suspected of dying from the Ebola virus, in the Liberian capital Monrovia
  • A burial team unloads an Ebola victim, who died in an ambulance, while collecting him for cremation
    John Moore via Getty Images
    A burial team unloads an Ebola victim, who died in an ambulance, while collecting him for cremation
  • Sanitized gloves and boots hang to dry as a burial team collects Ebola victims from a Ministry of Health treatment center for
    John Moore via Getty Images
    Sanitized gloves and boots hang to dry as a burial team collects Ebola victims from a Ministry of Health treatment center for cremation
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