The Gates Foundation: Hand In Hand With Pharma

Some weeks ago, we posted here on the problem with medical studies, as explained by Dr. John Ioannidis, a worldwide authority on the subject. One of the issues he pointed out was that of conflicts of interest that occur when the pharmaceutical industry itself commissions or conducts research on its own safety. So how much more of a conflict of interest is there when a former pharmaceutical executive is appointed to a critical position at one of the wealthiest and most powerful charitable foundations in the world, which has adopted as its mission fighting disease worldwide?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation notes that one of its priorities is developing ways to fight and prevent neglected and infectious diseases including malaria, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. On September 14, the foundation announced that Trevor Mundel, global head of development for Novartis Pharma, has been named president of the foundation’s Global Health Program.

This is disturbing for a number of reasons. An article at Intellectual Property Watch states, “The move may serve to solidify views that the Gates Foundation is oriented toward northern pharmaceutical industry practices, which have been called into question by developing countries in international fora in recent years.” The article continues, “The Gates Foundation derives revenues from patenting of pharmaceuticals, as explained by Gates in response to a question from Intellectual Property Watch earlier this year (IPW, Public Health, 17 May 2011). Developing countries, meanwhile, have been fighting for the right to use flexibilities to patents built into international trade rules.” In other words, while the Gates Foundation advocates for global health, it also earns money from the sale of pharmaceuticals, giving them a distinct motive to advocate for certain drugs over others.

At the same time, the fact that the global head of a pharmaceutical company is now heading the Gates Foundation Global Health Program also means that the same person who headed a company often accused of creating vaccines whose effectiveness and safety was questionable is now in a position to advocate for and encourage the use of those same vaccines, often in countries where there is even less education on vaccine safety than there is in America. For instance, one of Novartis’ flu vaccines, Fluvirin, contains several times the amount of mercury that is considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) according to NVIC’s Vaccine Ingredient Calculator. Meanwhile, their meningococcal vaccine, Menveo, contains about 25 mcg of formaldehyde, a known toxin. Do we really want the same person in charge of global health who has shown such indifference to public health in the past?

With the Gates Foundation’s increased push towards global vaccination, and their close connection to Novartis, I think we can safely expect to see the Gates Foundation beginning to advocate for more and more vaccines, particularly those that contain squalene (MF59) adjuvants, which have been created by a Novartis subsidiary, and have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

It is unfortunate that the Gates Foundation has plainly decided to pour its resources into advocating for vaccines that may not be as effective and safe as they may appear. The choice of Trevor Mundel as the head of their global health program shows, however, that the foundation does not find this issue as troubling as we do.

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