How does a respected charitable foundation end up running illegal human experiments and shilling dodgy drugs to foreign governments?

A tragedy in three acts.

Cast of characters:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: A charitable foundation created by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, which is interested in global health. Also called Gates Foundation or BMGF.

PATH: An organisation controlled by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Merck: A pharmaceutical corporation.

GSK: A pharmaceutical corporation. Also called GlaxoSmithKline.

Pfizer: A pharmaceutical corporation.

India: A country.

The US: A country.

The Third World: A collection of countries, which includes India but not The US.

USAID: A part of the government of The US that gives money or other gifts to the governments of countries in The Third World.

HPV: A disease; also called human papilloma virus.

Various Dodgy Drugs: Gardasil, Cervarix, Norplant, Implanon, Jadelle, Depo-Provera.

The following is excerpted from Big Pharma and the Gates Foundation: ‘Guinea Pigs for the Drugmakers’ by Jacob Levich.

Act One

… vulnerable village girls were virtually press-ganged into the trials, their parents bullied into signing consent forms they could not read by… representatives who made false claims about the safety and efficacy of the drugs. In many cases signatures were simply forged.

An Indian Parliamentary Committee determined that the Gates-funded vaccine campaign was in fact a large-scale clinical trial conducted on behalf of the pharmaceutical firms and disguised as an ‘observational study’ in order to outflank statutory requirements.

… the Gates Foundation was not merely facilitating low-cost clinical trials but was also assisting in the creation of new markets for a dubious and underperforming product. Merck’s version of the vaccine, called Gardasil, was introduced in 2006 in conjunction with a high-powered marketing campaign that generated $1.5 billion in annual sales; the vaccine was named ‘brand of the year’ by Pharmaceutical Executive for ‘building a market out of thin air.’

Act Two

In fact the vaccine was of questionable efficacy… The prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association in 2009 openly questioned whether the vaccine’s risks outweighed the potential benefits. As word of Gardasil’s defects emerged, American and European women began to decline the vaccine, and by 2010 Fortune Magazine declared Gardasil a ‘marketplace dud’ as year-over-year sales fell by 18 percent. GSK’s copycat HPV vaccine, Cervarix, experienced a comparable sales trough.

Billions in profits and capitalization were at stake. At this stage the Gates Foundation stepped in… In essence, BMGF would buy up stockpiled drugs that had failed to create sufficient demand in the West, press them on the periphery at a discount, and lock in long-term purchase agreements with Third World governments.

Act Three

Other dangerous drugs that failed to gain a toehold in Western markets have received similar attention from the Gates Foundation. Norplant, a subcutaneous contraceptive implant that effectively sterilizes women for as long as five years, was pulled from the US market after 36,000 women filed suit over severe side effects undisclosed by the manufacturer, including excessive menstrual bleeding, headaches, nausea, dizziness and depression. Slightly modified and rebranded as Jadelle, the same drug is now being heavily promoted in Africa by USAID, the Gates Foundation, and its affiliates. A recent article on the Gates-sponsored website Impatient Optimists elides its dangers and disingenuously states that the drug ‘never gained traction’ in the US because inserting and removing the device was ‘cumbersome.’ With Gates Foundation support, however, Jadelle ‘has played a pivotal role in bringing implants to the developing world’ and is soon to be complemented by a second Norplant clone, Merck’s Implanon.

An equally risky contraceptive, Pfizer’s Depo-Provera, recently received the Gates Foundation imprimatur for distribution to poor women worldwide. In the US and India feminists fought against approval of the injectable drug for decades due to its alarming list of side effects, including ‘infertility, irregular bleeding, decreased libido, depression, high blood pressure, excessive weight gain, breast tenderness, vaginal infections, hair loss, stomach pains, blurred vision, joint pain, growth of facial hair, acne, cramps, diarrhea, skin rash, tiredness, and swelling of limbs’ as well as potentially irreversible osteoporosis.

After the US Food and Drug Administration succumbed to industry pressure and granted approval in 1992, studies found a marked racial disparity in Depo-Provera prescriptions between white and African American women, leading to charges that ‘this form of long-acting provider-controlled birth control is routinely given to women of color in order to deny them the ability to control their own reproduction.’ White American and European women, by contrast, receive the drug only rarely and typically as a treatment for endometriosis, greatly limiting its commercial potential in the West.

Hence Pfizer stands to benefit enormously from a Gates-sponsored program, announced with much fanfare at the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, to distribute the drug to millions of women in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa by 2016:

[Y]ou do the numbers: If 120 million new women users chose Depo-Provera, at an estimated average cost between $120-$300 per woman annually, that works out to $15 billion to $36 billion in new sales annually, a nice payoff from leveraging $4 billion in research money.

Foundation publicity suggests that its aggressive backing of a discredited drug is merely a response to appeals from poor women. ‘Many [African] women want to use injectable contraceptives but simply cannot get access to them,’ claimed PATH President and CEO Steve Davis.

Reproductive rights activist Kwame Fasu disagrees:

No African woman would agree to being injected if she had full knowledge of the contraceptives’ dangerous side effects.

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