What philanthropy has to do with vaccines, we would wonder, especially if the philanthropist is Bill Gates. The world’s richest man decided to give away the massive wealth he had amassed by selling computers. It was a philanthropy that the world had not witnessed earlier. Mr. Gates, with his wife Bellinda, built up the foundation that would dispense wealth to the poor: Africa, India and a host of other countries in need of ‘healthcare.’
Why was Bill Gates funding India’s poor health sector? A partial but negative answer began to emerge in 2014, when the country’s Supreme Court raised questions about the operations of the foundation in some rural parts of India.
In 2009, tribal children from the Khammam district in Andhra Pradesh were administered with a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine meant for cervical cancer. Around 16,000 girls between the age of 9-15 years were given three shots of vaccine, (manufactured by Merck) by the state health department. The girls were told that they were being given “well-being” shots. The incident started getting attention when some months later, several girls’ health deteriorated and the following year, five of them died. Two such similar cases of deaths were reported from Vadodara, Gujarat, where 14,000 tribal children were also vaccinated with the HPV vaccine Cervarix, made by Glaxo SmithKline.
Around the same time when these incidents were reported, young girls were hospitalised in northern Colombia with similar symptoms. Coincidentally, these girls had been given doses of vaccine too.