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NGO supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was accused of bypassing Indian laws, causing death of tribal children and UPA govt didn’t do anything

PATH, which has received funds from BMGF to the tune of $2.5 billion between 1995 and May 2021, undertook the initiative to inoculate tribal children in Khammam with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine 'Gadasil' by Merck in 2009. The BMGF also held shares in Merck at that time.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been renowned for philanthropic activities across the world, especially in underdeveloped and developing nations.

BMGF funds an NGO by the name of PATH (Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health) which runs several health programmes in India. However, in 2009, the same NGO was responsible for the death of 4 tribal children in the Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana), reported Great Game India.

PATH, which has received funds from BMGF to the tune of $2.5 billion between 1995 and May 2021, undertook the initiative to inoculate tribal children in Khammam with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine in 2009. The vaccination drive was conducted in four countries, namely, Uganda, Peru, Vietnam and India.

All these countries had a nationwide immunisation programme and were composed of a different ethnic population. For instance, Uganda had Negroid, Peru had Hispanics, Vietnam had Mongoloids while India had Indo-Aryans, Dravidians and tribals.

Since ethnicity is used as a marker for testing the safety and efficacy of certain vaccines, different ethnic groups were used for the project. The success of the vaccination drive would have meant its inclusion into the national immunisation program of the respective countries and large profit for the drug manufacturers.

The objective of the project was “to generate and disseminate evidence for informed public sector introduction of HPV vaccines.” During the project, PATH used the Gardasil vaccine by Merck & Co. to inoculate the tribal children.

Interestingly, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had purchased $205 million dollar worth of stocks in pharmaceutical companies, including Merck in 2002. They held the shares in the company until June 2009 i.e. when the PATH project had reached its conclusion. It, therefore, made sense for BMGF to float HPV vaccines in India through the NGO.

Great Game India had reported, “By 2016, some 1,200 of the girls who had been subjects in the two HPV vaccine trials in India were reporting serious long-term side effects, more than 5% of the total cohort of 23,500. By then, the total number of deaths had risen to seven.”

Over 14,000 Indian girls were given the vaccine, a report by Great Game India stated. Merck’s attempts to force several European nations to include their vaccines in immunisation programmes was severely criticised by several European scientists who asserted that there is not enough data to suggest that it protects against multiple strains of the cancer-causing virus.

Findings of the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health

On Sunday (October 10), Vijay Patel, the founder of ‘Only Fact India’, shed light on how the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health exposed the PATH vaccination drive in a report in 2013.

The report noted that the vaccination trials were approved and facilitated by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) without paying heed to international ethical norms and rules. It emphasised how government funds, facilities and manpower was wasted to facilitate an inoculation programme of dubious nature.

The report further added that PATH misused the logo of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) without authorisation.

The Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health found that PATH and ICMR have been in contact since October 2006. The report read, “An employee of PATH India sent an email to Deputy Director of National AIDS Research Institute, ICMR expressing sorrow that she could not travel to Seattle, United States for ‘Formative Research Workshop’ (on HPV vaccine scheduled for October 24-26, 2006).”

Screengrab of the report

Eventually, a meeting took place between the officials on both sides on October 13, 2006, where PATH and ICMR claimed that the HPV vaccine can prevent cervical cancer and HPV. Later, on November 16 that year, a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was shared by PATH officials that emphasised collaboration with ICMR in introducing HPV vaccine into the country’s Universal Immunization Programme.

The report pointed out, “The Committee feels that there was a serious dereliction of duty by many of the Institutions and individuals involved. The Committee observes that ICMR representatives, instead of ensuring the highest levels of ethical standards in research studies, apparently acted at the behest of the PATH in promoting the interests of manufacturers of the HPV vaccine.”

It further added, “It was unwise on the part of ICMR to go in the PPP (Public-Private Partnership) mode with PATH, as such as involvement gives rise to grave Conflict of interest. The Committee takes a serious view of the role of ICMR in the entire episode and is constrained to observe that ICMR should have been more responsible in the matter. The Committee strongly recommends that the Ministry may review the activities of ICMR functionaries involved in the PATH project.”

“To achieve this end effortlessly, without going through the arduous and strictly regulated route of clinical trials, PATH resorted to an element of subterfuge by calling the clinical trials ‘Observational Studies’ or ‘a Demonstration Project’ and various such expressions. Thus the interest, safety and well being of subjects were completely jeopardized by PATH by using self-determined and self-servicing nomenclature which is not only highly deplorable but also a serious breach of the law of the land,” stated the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health.

Conflict of interest, personal benefits and bypassing Indian laws

To its utmost surprise, the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health also found that Merck and Co. and Gardasil sponsored a vaccination trial at AIIMS to check whether two doses of the HPV vaccine was safe and effective instead of 3 doses. Without naming the official, the report stated, “Documents received by the Committee in connection with the examination of AIIMs also revealed that the individual in question availed the hospitality of these very sponsors during the said individual’s visit to Seoul to attend a conference.”

The Committee also found that the official also kept the FCRA application incomplete deliberately to withhold information. Another senior ICMR official who was the main link between the government body and PATH was also made an official Resource Person in the Enquiry Committee, instead of being summoned as a witness to answer questions. This exhibited how officials discharged their supposed duties despite the clear conflict of interest.

It had also come to light that PATH was running its office in India without proper authorisation and approval of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoH) and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). “The Committee is concerned that if PATH can set up an office in India so easily without getting the required mandatory approvals/permissions. then individuals and entities inimical to the interest of the country can do the same…It is surprising that security and intelligence agencies did not raise an eyebrow on the way a foreign entity entered India virtually incognito through the backdoor,” the report concluded.

UPA and funding by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation

In his tweet, Vijay Patel, the founder of ‘Only Fact India’ pointed out how the PATH was not prosecuted for the death of 4 tribal children in the Khammam district of present-day Telangana.

Patel wrote, “But no action has been taken on any of these NGOs or individuals, for these unacceptable wrongdoings and Conflicts of Interest. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) was the main NGO behind all these, so when I have checked their funding list I was shocked. and I think this could be the reason why there wasn’t any action against them.”

Screengrab of the grants received by Rajiv Gandhi foundation
Screengrab of the grants received by Rajiv Gandhi foundation`

Vijay Patel showcased how the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had committed grants to the tune of $9,30,125 (September 2012), $13,20,129 (November 2015), $39,10,529 (November 2015), and $42,87,102 (November 2015) to Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust. Besides, the foundation that funded PATH also committed a grant of $99,972 to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in September 2013. BMGF funded Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust and the then UPA government chose to not act against Merc and Co., PATH, despite the critical report by Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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