[Ip-health] Melinda Gates addresses the World Health Assembly: Civil Society registers its protest

K.M. Gopakumar kumargopakm at gmail.com
Tue May 20 06:27:23 PDT 2014

*Melinda Gates addresses the World Health Assembly:*

*Civil Society registers its protest*

We the undersigned organizations express our strong protest against the
decision of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to invite Melinda Gates (of
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – BMGF) as the keynote speaker at the
67th World Health Assembly, that begun in Geneva on 19th May. This is the
third time in the last 10 years that someone from the BMGF and of the
family has been an invited speaker at the WHA (Melinda Gates was preceded
by her husband Bill Gates, in 2005 and 2011). Ms.Melinda Gates’ credentials
as a leader in public health are unclear.

It is unacceptable that the WHO, supposedly governed by sovereign nation
states, should countenance that at its annual global conference, the
keynote address would be delivered thrice in ten years by individuals from
the same private organization, and from the same family.

The BMGF is the second largest funder of the WHO. It has come to occupy
this place over the past two decades, because of the freeze on assessed
contributions by member states. Currently, 80% of WHO’s finances come from
voluntary contributions (including from countries and from private sources)
and BMGF’s funding is ‘tied’ to projects that the foundation has an
interest in funding.

BMGF’s munificence towards the WHO as well as towards many other global
health causes is well known. Less well known is the Foundation’s investment
policies that are clearly in conflict with global health.

*BMGF’s policies and practices are in conflict with global health*

Despite the strong influence the BMGF exerts on global health policies, the
effect of the policies it promotes has never been evaluated. This lack of
accountability is based on the false premise that private foundations are
not publicly accountable. This overlooks the fact that these foundations
intervene in public life through political power they exert as a result of
their financial clout; are publicly subsidized through tax exemptions; and
reinforce the notion that inequity can be addressed through charity.

The Foundation’s corporate stock endowment is heavily invested in food
industry (many of them under scrutiny for promoting unhealthy lifestyles),
directly and indirectly. The Foundation holds significant shares in
McDonald’s (10 million shares -- about 4% of the Gates’ portfolio), and
Coca-Cola (0.34 million shares, 14% of the Foundation’s portfolio).

Previously it invested heavily in pharmaceutical companies. In 2009 it sold
extensive pharmaceutical holdings in Johnson & Johnson (2.5 million
shares), Schering-Plough Corporation (14.9 million shares), Eli Lilly and
Company (about 1 million shares), Merck & Co. (8.1 million shares), and
Wyeth (3.7 million shares)[i] <#_edn1> [ii] <#_edn2>. Several people
associated with the Foundation are currently or were previously members of
the boards or executive branches of several major food and pharmaceutical
companies, including Coca-Cola, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, General Mills and
Kraft[iii] <#_edn3>.

The blurring of the boundaries between the Foundation’s objectives and its
portfolio investment is evident in Foundation grants that encourage
communities in developing countries to become business affiliates of
Coca-Cola, in which the Foundation has substantial holdings. The Foundation
held stock in Merck at a time when it developed partnerships with the
African Comprehensive AIDS and Malaria Partnership and the Merck Company
Foundation to test Merck products.

*CSOs Demands Accountability from WHO*

It is not possible, given the numerous conflict of interest issues that are
at stake, to view the invitation to Ms. Melinda Gates as a routine move. It
would appear that the WHO Secretariat is more beholden to private donors
than to the member states, that it is constitutionally mandated to serve.

We demands that:

·       The WHO to draw up a transparent mechanism for inviting speakers to
the WHA in future.

·       The WHO clarify the criteria based on which Melinda Gates has been
invited to speak at the WHA.

We also urge Member States to take the lead in developing transparent and
clear norms regarding such issues, and not leave the same to the discretion
of the Secretariat.

*Sd/-                                                                 sd/-*

*Peoples’ Health Movement                           Third World Network*

*Sd/-                                                                 sd/-*

*Wemos (Netherlands)                                    Health Innovation
in Practice (Geneva)*

*Sd/-     *

*International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN)*


[i] <#_ednref1>

[ii] <#_ednref2> DAVID STUCKLER, SANJAY BASU & MCKEE., M. (2011) Global
Health Philanthropy and Institutional Relationships: How Should Conflicts
of Interest Be Addressed? *PLoS Medicine,* 8

[iii] <#_ednref3> ibid

More information about the Ip-health mailing list