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February 20, 2008

WHO Doesn’t Like the Gates Foundation

From a recent article in the New York Times:

“The chief of malaria for the World Health Organization has complained that the growing dominance of malaria research by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation risks stifling a diversity of views among scientists and wiping out the world health agency’s policy-making function.

“In a memorandum, the malaria chief, Dr. Arata Kochi, complained to his boss, Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the W.H.O., that the foundation’s money, while crucial, could have ‘far-reaching, largely unintended consequences.’”

WHO is a UN organization, in case you didn’t know. UN agencies, even those that don’t do their job very well (most of them), don’t like to have their “policy-making function” wiped out.

Dr. Kochi, according to the NY Times article from which all facts following in this post come,  says the Gates Foundation is forcing recipient scientists into “group think”. A Dr. Amir Attaran at the University of Ottawa agrees with Dr. Kochi but “…believed that scientists were not afraid of the foundation, but of its chief of malaria, Dr. Regina Rabinovich, whom he described as ‘autocratic.’”

The Gates Foundation has spent about $1.2 billion on malaria research. Before their involvement in 2000, less than $100 million a year was being spent on this and drug companies had pretty much abandoned the field. You’d think the Foundation would be entitled to have an opinion and influence policy since it pays the bills but not according to Dr. Kochi who complains that the foundation “even takes its vested interest to seeing the data it helped generate taken to policy.”

I had a lot of contact with Bill Gates and Melinda and I were peers when I worked at Microsoft. I’d much rather have them setting policy – particularly on how their money is spent - than UN bureaucrats. Yeah, Bill can be arrogant; yeah, people who work for him sometimes think aping the arrogance will also make them as brilliant and successful as them. But, when Bill gets “hard core” about things, they get done. The things the Gates Foundation is doing need someone getting hard core about them. They need much more rigorous analysis and much better execution than the UN especially but also many other governmental and non-governmental have shown themselves capable of.

The last few paragraphs of the Times story may well explain what the Gates Foundation has done to raise the ire of UN officials:

“There have been hints in recent months that the World Health Organization feels threatened by the growing power of the Gates Foundation. Some scientists have said privately that it is ‘creating its own W.H.O.’

“One oft-cited example is its $105 million grant to create the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. Its mission is to judge, for example, which treatments work or to rank countries’ health systems.

“These are core W.H.O. tasks, but the institute’s new director, Dr. Christopher J. L. Murray, formerly a health organization official, said a new path was needed because the United Nations agency came under pressure from member countries. His said his institute would be independent of that.”

Maybe we ought to find out what other UN functions the Gates Foundation would be willing to take over.

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