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Bill Gates and the world health juggernaut


This is the first instalment of a four-part investigation.

BILL Gates’s company Microsoft has changed our lives. It turned him into one of the richest men in the world and allowed him to turn philanthropist. His endeavour began in 1994 when he established the William H. Gates Foundation, soon to be followed by the Gates Learning Foundation in 1997. He merged the organisations in 2000 creating the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (GF). After the couple transferred $20billion of their Microsoft stock to the GF it became the largest charitable foundation in the world and over the next twenty years the most powerful charity in the world. Its endowment as of 2019 was $50billion.

The GF made its first donation to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1998. Soon after Gates pledged a further $750million to set up the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), the stated aim of which is to increase immunisation rates in low-income countries, with the WHO and the UK amongst its original founders and donors. Last year Boris Johnson pledged Gavi £1.65billion over five years at the June 2020 Global Vaccine Summit replenishment conference, which the UK hosted. Six months later Johnson met Gates and pharmaceutical bosses to discuss Britain’s vaccine rollout and future pandemic plans.

The GF holds a permanent seat on Gavi’s board. Gavi’s core partners today are the GF, the WHO, Unicef and the World Bank, with the GF giving Gavi $4.1billion since its inception. Gavi is also the fifth largest funder of the WHO, giving $355.4million last year. With the WHO, Gavi dominates global vaccination campaigns including the Covid-19 vaccine rollout. 

The GF continues to donate to the WHO. Its 2020 financial contribution was over $573.5million. 

The WHO’s list of top 20 donors for the two-year budget cycle of 2018 and 2019 shows the GF coming second only to the US (their $893million donation accounting for 20 per cent of the WHO’s budget) with a $531 million donation (equal to 12 per cent of WHO’s budget). The GF and Gavi together outstrip all single country donations, except that of the US.

In 2017 the GF became an official partner of the WHO. The GF’s influence over the WHO is well-documented and the two organisations are near-synonymous. 

Since its inception the GF has given $54.8billion to a multitude of organisations. It has expanded globally, opening offices in Beijing in 2007 and London in 2010, and funding works in 135 countries. A letter from President Xi Jinping to Bill Gates, which you can read here, suggests Gates’s closeness to the Chinese Communist Party. 

Donations from billionaires over the past 25 years have extensively bolstered the GF’s finances. Between 1994 and 2018 Mr and Mrs Gates donated$36billion of their own money, and in 2006 Warren Buffet pledged $30billion. 

Eight years after establishing Gavi, Gates stepped down in 2008 as Microsoft CEO to commit more of his time to his foundation. By that time the GF was the largest charitable foundation in the US, and questions were being raised even then about its long reach in shaping US government health policies. After going into financial partnership with the GF, the publicly funded US National Institutes of Health (NIH) shifted their focus from the health and welfare of American citizens to global health. Concerns about the power, complexity and lack of accountability of GF, and Gates’s potential – effectively now realised – to become WHO’s largest donor continue to be articulated. 

In 2010, with Warren Buffett, the Gateses launched Giving Pledge, a vehicle through which the very wealthy could donate to charity. To date there are no public details of who donates what through Giving Pledge, though this endeavour has turned into a tax haven for billionaires. 

The GF is also a co-founder and funder of CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations), as influential as Gavi but less known. CEPI is a Norwegian venture which invests in vaccines and is also funded by the Indian and Norwegian governments, the British-based Wellcome Trust and the World Economic Forum. Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust and member of Sage, sits on the CEPI board. In 2017 Gates said that the world was unprepared for pandemics and that CEPI’s investments in ‘DNA/RNA vaccines’ would mitigate that. Both the GF and Wellcome Trust have pledged to fund CEPI with $100million annually from 2017 to 2022.

In March last year, after Covid-19 spread globally, Gates stepped down from his position on the Microsoft board of directors, citing his desire to concentrate on Covid-19. A month later, the GF pledged to make Covid-19 vaccines available to 7billion people (the global population was estimated at 7.8billion last year). In December, the GF committed $1.75billion to develop Covid-19 tests and vaccines. The GF is now the self-appointed leader of the global response to Covid-19.  

The initial endeavours of the William H. Gates Foundation to support scientific research and local charities have morphed into a global juggernaut with unaccountable power. Vast amounts of money are being channelled according to the thoughts, passions and prejudices of one man with questionable judgment.

In 1998, Gates was hauled before the US Senate to answer questions about Microsoft’s anti-trust practices. His demeanour while giving testimony was dishonest and arrogant. His performance is disturbing to watch, captured in this clip (from 1 minute 29 seconds) where he rocked repeatedly in his chair and insisted he didn’t understand the word ‘concern’. 

When the WHO was formed as an intergovernmental organisation, it would have been unimaginable that a private foundation could have such influence or set the global health agenda. Though awareness of the GF’s influence over the WHO and Gavi is growing, what is less well documented is its extensive reach closer to home and its control over British science, medicine and public health. This I will be reporting on in the coming days.

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Karen Harradine
Karen Harradine
Karen is an anthropologist and freelance journalist. She writes on anti-Semitism, Israel and spirituality. She is @KarenH777on Twitter.

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