Ties between one of India’s largest immunization programs and the Gates Foundation have been cut, media reports suggest. However, the Health Ministry dismisses such claims as “misleading.”
“Shut the gate” on Gates
The Economic Times reports that the Modi government has “shut the gate” on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as far as the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) is concerned. “All financial ties” between the foundation and NTAGI “have been cut off”, the newspaper says.
This allegedly is because of a “conflict of interest” arising due to connections between the Gates Foundation and big pharma. Such links are compromising to the foundation’s relationship with NTAGI, some say. These include senior National Health Mission (NHM) professionals, as well as agencies such as the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, the economic division of the Hindu nationalist assembly Sangh Parivar.
More recent developments, however, are telling a different – and altogether less dramatic – story.
“Inaccurate and misleading” reports
The Health Ministry seems adamant to refute the story. Medical Dialogues, reporting two days after the original story broke, say that the Ministry describes “media reports…[suggesting] that all health-related collaboration with the Gates Foundation for NHM has been stopped” as “inaccurate and misleading.” It quotes a response from the Central Government’s official Press Information Bureau – one also carried by the Press Trust of India. Both are signs of a high-level focus on rebutting this story.
In fact, funding for a key part of India’s Immunisation Technical Support Unit (ITSU) will now come from the government, rather than the Gates Foundation. The Foundation has provided monetary backing to the unit for years. This is a manoeuvre that some — especially reporters close to the domestic industry – say is designed to remove undue influence from foreign agents upon India’s public health sector.
The NTAGI Secretariat will change hands, from ITSU to the Health Ministry. This transition has been described as a “planned activity…[that] will have no adverse effect.”
Health ministry officials have been keen to emphasise that the move is not because of any wrongdoing by the Gates Foundation. Reuters quotes the Director General of the Indian Council of Medical Research, Dr Soumya Swaminathan as saying “there was a perception that an external agency is funding it, so there could be influence.”