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 10 - Weakening the public health systems of states
In addition to pushing dangerous products onto poorer countries, the Gates Foundation actually stunts improvements to public health systems and access to health care. Thus, changes in social and economic determinants of health take a backseat to more profitable, technology-centric solutions like vaccines.
This phenomenon is reflected in the WHO budget. The foundation is the largest contributor to the WHO’s polio eradication program, but the largest funder of WHO’s “health systems” program is the government of Japan.
According to Global Justice Now, the foundation’s “heavy focus on developing new vaccines… detracts from other, more vital health priorities such as building resilient health systems.”
As Dr. David Legge explains, Gates “has got a mechanistic view of global health, in terms of looking for silver bullets. All of the things he supports are largely framed as silver bullets … That means that major issues that have been identified in the World Health Assembly are not being addressed, including in particular the social determinants of health, and the development of health systems.”
In 2011, Gates spoke at the WHO, saying, “All 193 member states, you must make vaccines a central focus of your health systems.”
University of Toronto public health professor Anne Emanuelle Birn wrote in 2005 that the foundation had a “narrowly conceived understanding of health as the product of technical interventions divorced from economic, social, and political contexts.”
“The Gates Foundation has long championed private sector involvement in, and private sector profit-making from global health,” Birn told The Grayzone.
One of GAVI’s senior representatives even reported that Bill Gates often told him in private conversations “that he is vehemently ‘against’ health systems” because it is a “complete waste of money.”
This phenomenon is also reflected in how the policy agenda is set at GAVI. GAVI, too, focuses on vertical health interventions like vaccines, instead of horizontal approaches, like building and strengthening health systems in poor countries.
A report by Global Public Health outlines the “Gates approach” to health systems, analyzing how disease-specific projects like vaccines have eclipsed efforts to work on publicly funded health systems. The article’s author, Katerini Storeng, pointed to GAVI as an example of how “global health initiatives have come to capture the global health debate about health systems strengthening in favor of their disease specific approach and ethos.”
According to a former GAVI staffer who spoke with Storeng, even former GAVI CEO Julian Lob-Levitt was aware of the “absurdity of vaccine campaigns that consume four weeks to plan, implement and clean up and that, when repeated eight times a year, totally paralyze the health system.”
At one point, Lob-Levitt commissioned a series of evaluations of GAVI, which identified weaknesses in health systems and the need to strengthen them. The push to do so, however, was “strongly resisted by many powerful actors [on GAVI’s board]” including USAID and the Gates Foundation, according to Storeng’s interviews.
Storeng writes that a GAVI staffer told her that the Foundation was a “very loud, vocal voice, saying that we do not believe in the strengthening of health systems.”
The report also notes:
“Gates’ reputation for being ‘not very good at listening’ has encouraged a non-confrontational approach within the global health arena … a former GAVI employee and HSS [health systems strengthening] proponent recounted how he and his colleagues used to ‘roll down the HSS posters’ when Bill Gates came to visit the GAVI headquarters in Geneva because he is known to ‘hate this part’ of GAVI’s work.”
The foundation’s preference for weak public health systems, and for techno-centric solutions to public health problems is not limited to its work with the drug industry. It also shapes policy in the crucial sector of food.
Early this year, Gates set up a new non-profit institute based in St. Louis, Missouri, home of Monsanto. The foundation said the new organization, dubbed Gates Ag One, will “enable the advancement of resilient, yield enhancing seeds” and introduce them into “crops essential to smallholder farmers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.”
Yet while helping small farmers sounds like a noble endeavor, the foundation has worked to ensure that the Global South is dependent on Western industry, whether through drugs or high-tech seeds and agrochemicals.
Much of this activity began in 2006 when the Gates Foundation partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to give birth to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Gates committed $100 million, while the Rockefeller Foundation ponied up $50 million.
The approach of AGRA, which opened up African markets to U.S. agribusiness, is based on the belief that hunger is due to a lack of Western tech, instead of the result of inequality or exploitation.
According to a report by the African Center for Biosafety, “It is striking that none of those in the forefront of the revolution is African. No different from the colonial project in Africa, this new revolution is created and most ardently advocated by white men claiming to fight for the emancipation of Africans from the clutches of hunger and poverty.”
Through AGRA, the Foundation pushes for the introduction of patented, genetically modified (GM) seeds and fertilizers. While these technologies help seed and chemical giants like Monsanto, they often undermine food security.
Dr. Vandana Shiva maintains that the idea that GM crops increase yields is a “scientific falsehood.” For another, the foundation again ensures that valuable resources are diverted away from systemic solutions to hunger and poverty.
As The Ecologist asserted, Gates and Monsanto partner in the “inappropriate and fraudulent GMO project which promotes a technical quick fix ahead of tackling the structural issues that create hunger, poverty and food insecurity.”
What’s more, the Gates Foundation actually influences African governments to change laws to accommodate the agriculture industry.
According to Grain.org:
“In Ghana … AGRA helped the government review its seed policies with the goal of identifying barriers to the private sector getting more involved. With technical and financial support from AGRA, the country’s seed legislation was revised and a new pro-business seed law was passed in mid-2010. Among other things it established a register of varieties that can be marketed. In Tanzania, discussions between AGRA and government representatives facilitated a major policy change to privatise seed production. In Malawi, AGRA supported the government in revising its maize pricing and trade policies.”
Commenting on the role of Gates in reshaping agriculture markets, Shiva told The Grayzone, “You create a new field, you invest in it. You force governments to invest in it, you destroy the regulation. You destroy the alternatives, you attack the scientists. And you create a whole machinery for your monopoly.”
As in the case of Gates and Big Pharma, these moves can be explained by the Gates Foundation’s apparent conflicts of interest. And as before, the examples go on and on.
Former deputy director of the foundation’s agriculture program, Robert Horsch, was previously a high-ranking executive at Monsanto, where he worked for 25 years. Horsch led the team that manages agricultural grants, and according to Global Policy Forum, “he was asked to join the Gates Foundation particularly for the purpose of continuing his Monsanto research.”
Sam Dryden, the former director of the Gates Foundation’s agriculture program, previously led two of the largest genetically modified seed companies, Emergent Genetics and Agragentics Corporation. In 2005, Emergent was bought by Monsanto, where Dryen stayed for six months. While he was at the Gates Foundation, The Guardian called him “the most powerful figure in the global south’s agriculture.”
The former program officer for Gates’ agriculture program, Don Doering, was previously a founding member of Monsanto’s Biotechnology Advisory Council. Doering led an agricultural development team that directed money into “help[ing] poor farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.”
Then there’s Florence Wambugu, who authored the book “Modifying Africa” and has been called “an apostle of Monsanto in Africa.” After receiving a scholarship from USAID, Wambugu became a researcher at Monsanto. She was then appointed to the Gates Foundation’s Global Development board.
As with several of its pharmaceutical endeavors, the Gates Foundation works with USAID in the agriculture sector. Pamela K. Anderson, the current director of agriculture development at the Gates Foundation, is currently on the board of USAID.
22,000 children die each day due to poverty. Yet socio-economic causes of health problems can be neglected when industry aligned interests call the shots. Such is the case with the Gates Foundation’s primacy in the global health arena.
In short, the foundation’s leadership in previous global health efforts displays an allegiance not to public health, but to the imperatives of Western capital. It prefers not to strengthen health systems, but to ensure nations remain dependent on Big Pharma and/or Big Agriculture for as long as possible.
It is in this light the Gates’ leadership in the global fight against Covid-19 can be understood.