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Swadeshi Jagran Manch Probes Bill Gates Foundation role in Health Policy

File image of Bill Gates. (Image: Reuters)

File image of Bill Gates. (Image: Reuters)

The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the Sangh Parivar, is preparing a white paper on Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), questioning the philanthropic organisation’s influence on India’s health policies.

New Delhi: The Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the Sangh Parivar, is preparing a white paper on Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), questioning the philanthropic organisation’s influence on India’s health policies.

In its draft paper, the Manch has alleged that BMGF has business links with some of the pharmaceutical companies that the government is planning to engage with for its pan-India immunisation drive. “The idea is to enable the government in making an informed decision with regards to public health,” said one of the experts working on the white paper.

Speaking to News18, co-convener of SJM, Ashwini Mahajan said, “We are questioning the role of BMGF and their influence on health policies, particularly the immunisation drive.” The white paper also dwells into the alleged business links between BMGF and big pharmaceutical companies.

The SJM’s experts have expressed concerns over rotavirus field trials and the Pentavalent vaccine — a five-in-one vaccine that combines five antigens, namely: Diphtheria; Pertussis; Tetanus; Hepatitis B (HB) and Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) — in the government’s immunisation scheme for children.

Mahajan said, “We will request the government to publish data on Rotavirus field trials for different cases, especially with regard to cases in Vellore.” The Rotovac clinical trial was conducted on 6,799 infants in Delhi, Pune and Vellore between 2011 and 2013.

According to activists, the Vellore trial shows an excess of 11 cases of intussusception per 10,000 vaccinated children as compared to the trial figures from Delhi. This is up to 10 times higher than the risk of intussusception with the Rotashield vaccine – which was withdrawn from the market – and nearly 70 times higher than the risk associated with the current internationally licensed vaccine, RotaTeq.

Mahajan added that until proven safe for children, no vaccination should be introduced across India. “We have recommended that the vaccines should be fool-proofed before going pan-India.”

When asked, a BMGF spokesperson said, “One aspect of our work in India has been to support increased local capabilities in vaccine development, high-quality manufacturing and testing in alignment with India’s priorities.”

“For example, our collaboration with DBT and Bharat Biotech on the 116E vaccine for rotavirus led to the development of an Indian vaccine that offered significant cost savings compared to international products and through our partnership with WHO, Serum Institute of India developed MenAfriVac, a high-quality, low-cost meningitis vaccine for Africa, to avert many deaths from the epidemic,” the BMGF spokesperson said.

BMGF said the Rotavirus vaccine has been introduced in India by the government after “due diligence and necessary approvals”.

The SJM white paper demanding an inquiry into the role of the BMGF comes soon after another RSS affiliate – Bharatiya Kisan Sangh – lobbied to regulate cotton seed prices to break the monopoly of Monsanto, an American agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology company. “After allowing Monsanto for decades, the government acted and regulated the cotton seed prices,” said a statement recently issued by the SJM.

The outfit further said, “Monsanto got used to excessive profiteering at the cost of farmers, disregarding the law of the land. It was exploiting the farmers by creating a monopoly on Bt cotton seeds in India.”

The Manch said the failure of Monsanto’s varieties in India showed that the local germplasm (living tissue from which new plants can be grown) is more popular than the Bt variety brought by Monsanto for enhancement of cotton yields.

“Through such false propaganda, they have exploited the farmers for about 15 years,” SJM said in a written statement. The outfit is known to promote domestic products and services, and has always emphasized on the need to avoid foreign influence in Indian policies.

According to some media reports, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI) will no longer be serviced through the Gates Foundation-funded Immunization Technical Support Unit (ITSU) at the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

When asked about the organisation’s future engagement in India, the BMGF spokesperson said, “We are committed to India’s national health goals and look forward to supporting the government in its ambitious health agenda to save the lives of mothers and children”.

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