Bill Gates? Putting corporate profitability and capitalism ahead of human lives? Is this the same man who waxed eloquent about how he has helped bring malaria to the fore and getting it on the world stage, helping save lives? Is he the man who has, till now, enjoyed this image of being a white rich man who wants to help and save the poor, the completely downtrodden, in the under-developed and developing world?
You watch this series on Netflix on him – Inside Bill’s Brain:Decoding Bill Gates and you are actually left amazed that a man so rich, among the top three richest in the world, has so much empathy for the poor; it makes you wonder why more of the super-rich cannot be like Gates?
We are thankful now that all the rich are not like Gates. Of all the people, it was pretty astonishing to know that it is Bill Gates at the forefront who is opposing the free-sharing of vaccine patents by drug companies. At this juncture, it seems extremely cruel and even evil, given that most of Asia and South America is suffering and we all need production and distribution of as many vaccines, as quickly as possible.
If there is one good thing which has come out of this pandemic, it is this feeling of co-operation and a sense of solidarity between nations and there is simply no debate that the need to save lives of many is more important that profits of the few. Yes, drug companies will stand to lose billions if their formulae are shared and supply increased; it is understandable why they are resisting efforts to amend the world’s intellectual property (IP) regime, but the drug companies finding a strong advocate in Bill Gates is baffling.
Why is Bill Gates opposing? In one of the interviews recently he said that he worried about the manufacturing facilities; whether the countries would be able to maintain the safety standards and whether they will have the facilities required. Well, that one argument does not hold any water as so many drugs we for America is made by Indian companies, in Indian factories. And there is the FDA too, right? They can approve or disapprove. Factory owners around the globe, from Bangladesh to Canada, have said they stand ready to retrofit facilities and move forward with vaccine production if given the chance. Thus to have this argument makes no sense.
And for all that safety standards, even in USA, there was a major goof-up in production of J&J vaccines at their own Baltimore facility.
What Gates is forgetting is that this is not the right time to support these profit-making drug companies. We are in a war-like situation and effort has also got to be like war-time effort, with everyone in it together.
But then Gates owes his massive fortune to his monopolistic intellectual property laws and he is not just a passive onlooker – he has his oars in this vaccine business too. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed $300 million to fight Covid 19 and develop a vaccine. His investment, made way back in 2015 in CureVac, a German biotechnology company, has grown by leaps and bounds. The Bill Gates and Melinda Foundation are also shareholders of Pfizer and has also provided research grants to the company. Yes, we can argue that he was a smart investor and he has a right to the money but at such times?
Unfortunately, this reeks vaccine apartheid. The richer countries are getting vaccinated more quickly and they are sitting on a stockpile of vaccines while the poorer ones are scrambling around. Humanity is at war with the virus but there is a raging fight between profit mechanism and humanitarian common sense. This is an exhibit of global capitalism. If the profit mechanism wins this fight, the pandemic will rage longer, causing devastating deaths.
PS: Bill Gates is today the largest private farm land owner in USA and this has little to do with his professed support for “sustainable agriculture,” it is more about playing a monopolistic role in determining our food systems and land use patterns.