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Why the Bill Gates global health empire promises more empire and less public health

Behind a veil of corporate media PR, the Gates Foundation has served as a vehicle for Western capital while exploiting the Global South as a human laboratory. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to intensify this disturbing agenda.

by Jeremy Loffredo and Michele Greenstein

Part 5 - Gates buys the World Health Organization

The WHO relies on two streams of revenue. One comes in the form of assessed contributions, or obligatory funding from UN member states which is assessed through population and income. The second is voluntary contributions, which can be earmarked for specific causes.

Voluntary earmarked contributions account for more than 80 percent of the current WHO budget. In other words, most of the WHO’s money comes with strings attached.

As Dr. David Legge, public health scholar emeritus at the School of Public Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, told The Grayzone, “Obligatory contributions by nation states really only cover the cost of administration. It doesn’t cover any of the project costs, which means that all project funding is dependent on donors. [And] virtually all donor money is totally earmarked to highly specific projects that the donors want to fund. 

Through these voluntary contributions, the WHO took in over $70 million from the pharmaceutical industry in 2018 (the last year for which complete data is available). Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation has provided Big Pharma with the perfect vehicle for influencing the WHO.

In 2018 alone, the foundation gave $237.8 million to the WHO, making it the second-largest contributor after the U.S.

The foundation also funds the WHO indirectly through Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI), a “public-private partnership” that facilitates bulk sales of vaccines to poor countries. GAVI is the second-largest non-state funder of the WHO (after the Gates Foundation), and gave $158.5 million to the WHO in 2018. 

In the late 1990s, Bill Gates sponsored the meetings that led to the creation of GAVI, establishing it up with $750 million in seed money. To date, the Gates Foundation has given GAVI more than $4.1 billion, accounting for close to 20 percent of GAVI funds. It also occupies a permanent seat on the GAVI board.

GAVI itself discloses that the Gates Foundation “plays both a technical and financial role in [its] efforts to shape vaccine markets. 

Citing GAVI as an example, the activist group Global Health Watch explained that “other global health actors are accountable to the Gates Foundation, but not the other way round.

If the foundation’s and GAVI’s WHO contributions are combined, they outweigh the U.S. government’s contributions, making the Gates Foundation the unofficial top sponsor of the WHO, even before the Trump administration’s recent move to withdraw from the organization.

To sociologist Allison Katz, who worked for 18 years in the WHO headquarters, the WHO “has become a victim of neoliberal globalization.” Katz wrote an open letter to then-WHO Director General Margaret Chan in 2007, criticizing public bodies that “go begging to the private sector [and] to the foundations of celebrity ‘philanthropists’ with diverse agendas, from industry.

To be sure, the WHO’s close financial relationship with a private organization is only a problem to the extent that it relies on quid pro quo donations. And that seems to be exactly what is taking place.

Because most of both the Gates Foundation’s contributions to the WHO are earmarked, the WHO doesn’t decide how these funds are spent – the foundation does. For example, the WHO program that receives the most money is its polio eradication program, because the Gates Foundation earmarks most of its contributions for polio.

Additionally, the sheer magnitude of the foundation’s financial contributions have made Bill Gates an unofficial  – albeit unelected – leader at the organization. That’s why the World Health Assembly that sets the WHO agenda adopted a “Global Vaccine Plan” in 2012 that was co-authored by none other than the Gates Foundation. 

According to Dr. David Legge, scholar emeritus at the School of Public Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Gates’ financial “donations” are actually a mechanism for agenda setting. Legge told The Grayzone that “his massive contributions totally distort the kind of budget priorities that the World Health Assembly would wish to see.

According to Foreign Affairs, “few policy initiatives or normative standards set by the WHO are announced before they have been casually, unofficially vetted by Gates Foundation staff.” Or, as other sources told Politico in 2017, “Gates’ priorities have become the WHO’s.

In an interview with Global Health Watch, one senior health policy officer from a large NGO put it this way: “The people at WHO seem to have gone crazy. It’s ‘yes sir’, ‘yes sir’, to Gates on everything.

In 2007, the chief of the WHO malaria program, Dr. Arata Kochi, warned of the Gates Foundation’s financial dominance, arguing that its money could have “far reaching, largely unintended consequences.

Seven years later, the organization’s then-Director General Margaret Chan noted that because the WHO’s budget is highly earmarked, it is “driven by what [she calls] donor interests.

When Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus became WHO Director General in 2017, Gates’ influence came under fire again.

Tedros was previously on the board of two organizations Gates founded, provided seed money for, and continues to fund to this day: GAVI and the Global Fund, where Tedros was chair of the board.

Today, Tedros, the first WHO director general who is not a medical doctor, can be found tweeting praise for Bill Gates’ op-eds.

Another mechanism the Gates Foundation employs to influence the WHO is the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE), the principal advisory group to the WHO for vaccines. SAGE is a board of 15 people, legally required to disclose any possible conflicts of interest.

During a recent virtual meeting, half of the board’s members who did so listed Gates Foundation connections as possible conflicts of interests.

The foundation’s influence in the international health arena goes well beyond the WHO. A 2017 analysis of 23 global health partnerships revealed that seven relied entirely on Gates Foundation funding and another nine listed the foundation as its top donor. 

As the UK-based NGO Global Justice Now noted, “the Foundation’s influence is so pervasive that many actors in international development which would otherwise critique the policy and practice of the Foundation are unable to speak out independently as a result of its funding and patronage.

The World Bank and the IMF look like midgets in front of the Gates Foundation, in terms of power and influence,” Dr. Vandana Shiva remarked to The Grayzone.

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