Civil so­ci­ety groups protest WHO move to give Gates Foun­da­tion of­fi­cial role

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES GLOBAL -

About 30 civil so­ci­ety groups from 16 coun­tries have protested against what they see as a lack of trans­parency in the pro­posal to ad­mit the Bill and Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion into “of­fi­cial re­la­tions” with the WHO and as a non-vot­ing mem­ber of its gov­ern­ing body, the World Health As­sem­bly.

An open let­ter to WHO’s ex­ec­u­tive board (EB) pointed out that sev­eral con­flicts of in­ter­ests of the foun­da­tion were not ac­knowl­edged in the bud­get’s fi­nan­cial con­trib­u­tor data­base. The meet­ing of WHO’s Pro­gramme, Bud­get and Ad­min­is­tra­tion Com­mit­tee, which has to make rec­om­men­da­tions to the ex­ec­u­tive board on of­fi­cial re­la­tions sta­tus for var­i­ous non-state ac­tors, was held from January 18-20.

The WHO’s reg­is­ter of non­state ac­tors — or­gan­i­sa­tions with sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence but not be­long­ing to any coun­try — merely noted the foun­da­tion had “en­gage­ments with Ap­prox 25% of the Gates Foun­da­tion Trust as­sets are in­vested in Berk­shire Hath­away Inc a hold­ing com­pany that owns $17 bil­lion share in Coca-Cola and $29 bil­lion in­ter­est in Kraft Heinz Inc. se­lect mem­bers of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal…(and) food and bev­er­age in­dus­tries”. The let­ter pointed out that in­for­ma­tion from US’s Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion sho- wed that the source of rev­enue for the foun­da­tion “is heav­ily in­vested in many of the food, al­co­hol, and phys­i­cal in­ac­tiv­ity-re­lated con­sumer prod­ucts that cause or treat the cri­sis of pre­ventable heart dis­ease, stroke, cancer, and di­a­betes”.

The let­ter urged the ex­ec­u­tive board to put off a de­ci­sion on ac­cept­ing the Gates Foun­da­tion or other ap­pli­ca­tions for of­fi­cial re­la­tions sta­tus where “there has been no con­flict of in­ter­est safe­guard re­view on the record”. It fur­ther stated that it was “deeply trou­bling” the EB was be­ing asked to ap­prove applicants for of­fi­cial re­la­tions and ver­ify com­pli­ance of con­flict of in­ter­est safe­guards with­out rel­e­vant proof on pub­lic record.

The foun­da­tion con­trib­uted $629 mil­lion to the WHO’s $4.5 bil­lion two-year bud­get. “Mak­ing up WHO bud­get short­falls with fund­ing from ma­jor in­vestors in food, drug, and al­co­hol com­pa­nies (which are of­ten head­quar­tered in wealthy coun­tries) fur­ther com­pro­mises the in­de­pen­dence of the WHO,” stated the let­ter, ad- ding that grant­ing Gates Foun­da­tion of­fi­cial sta­tus “makes a mock­ery of the con­flict of in­ter­est safe­guards pur­ported to un­der­pin WHO’s new ‘Frame­work of en­gage­ment with non-State ac­tors (FENSA)’”. FENSA al­lows NGOs, in­ter­na­tional busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions and phil­an­thropic foun­da­tions to en­ter into of­fi­cial re­la­tions with WHO.

The EB is to con­sider pro­pos­als of four other or­gan­i­sa­tions to en­ter into of­fi­cial re­la­tions — Grand Chal­lenges Canada, In­ter­na­tional Res­cue Com­mit­tee, Knowl­edge Ecol­ogy In­ter­na­tional, and the Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion. One of the con­di­tions for en­ter­ing into of­fi­cial re­la­tions is a joint work plan for col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween WHO and the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Af­ter ini­tially claim­ing there was no need to share joint ac­tion plan sub­mit­ted by non-state ac­tors, WHO sec­re­tariat has agreed to share the work plans by January 20. But that left lit­tle time for mem­ber states to an­a­lyse the doc­u­ments be­fore the EB meet­ing from January 23 to Fe­bru­ary 1.

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