By Jacob Puliyel
Dr Puliyel, paediatrician at Delhi’s St Stephen’s Hospital, describes in Sunday Guardian Live how the direction of India’s National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), the equivalent of US’s Advisory Committee on Immunization (ACIP)or the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has been handed over to the direction of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with potentially disastrous consequences for Indian health. The situation has disturbing parallels with what is now happening in the UK.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s (BMGF’s) prescription of foreign drugs for India’s poor and the way in which it has become a major influence within key ministries in Government of India was mentioned in this newspaper recently (The Sunday Guardian, 7 February 2016). The links with the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI) and Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) were described. The article also highlighted the investments of the foundation and the board members in US-EU Big Pharma stocks and the resulting possible conflict of interests.
The vaccine market in India is potentially one of the largest in the world. The government is advised on what vaccines to include in the national immunisation programme by a committee of experts called the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI).
This body is expected to evaluate the vaccines, their costs and benefits for the country. Vaccines whose cost far exceeds the benefits are not to be recommended. But the entire secretariat of the NTAGI has now been outsourced to the BMGF. Called the Immunisation Technical Support Unit (ITSU), the secretariat is funded by the Gates Foundation and has been moved out of the Nirman Bhawan, where the Ministry of Health is located, into the PHFI.
It is as if the resources of the Indian government machinery cannot stretch to pay the salaries of the 32 people in this secretariat. ITSU now puts together the papers supporting vaccines and it decides the agenda of the NTAGI and also controls what is recorded as minutes of the meetings.
To ensure that the public is kept in the dark about how the public health policy on vaccines is formulated, the new secretariat has introduced draconian confidentiality clauses....
Postscript by John Stone
This would appear to have interesting parallels with what has been happening with UK’s JCVI, which suddenly moved from a Department of Health building in London to Oxford Martin School in Oxford of which the chairman, Prof Andrew Pollard, is a senior fellow. While minutes of the four monthly meetings are minuted committee members were entertained on the most recent occasion at Prof Pollard’s college, St Cross the day before it. The parent body of Oxford Vaccine Group, of which Prof Pollard is director is the Jenner Vaccine Institute which receives support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2014 Prof Pollard chaired a meeting of the JCVI in which Bexsero Men B vaccine, for which he was lead developer with Oxford Vaccine Group, was recommended for use.