Bill Gates has spent his later years helping the world's poor. But Linda McQuaig writes that, when COVID hit, he didn't focus on the poor:
Hard to believe now, but in the first few months of the pandemic it looked like the world was going to act together to develop a "people's vaccine."
Given the scope and urgency of the looming crisis in February 2020, hundreds of global health experts and researchers converged for two intense days at the Geneva headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) where they drew up extensive plans for pooling global scientific knowledge in order to expedite the quest for a vaccine.
Their plan amounted to a bold rejection of the usual pharmaceutical model where drug companies carry out research behind proprietary walls, jealously guarding their "intellectual property" as they race to get a patent, which will give them a monopoly on their new product.
Enter Bill Gates:
The multibillionaire, often described as the "global health czar," has achieved an exulted, almost revered status for giving away tens of billions of his fortune in a seemingly selfless effort to help the world.
Gates almost single-handedly derailed the plan that could have led to a "people's vaccine."
That's because, for all his philanthropy, Gates is deeply committed to protecting the rights of patent holders. He made his own mega-fortune through patents on his computer innovations and has long supported the pharmaceutical industry's claim that patents are necessary to encourage investment.
So, even before the scientific community had a chance to launch its co-operative public initiative in May 2020, Gates had put forward his own COVID initiative based on protecting drug patents and encouraging vaccine philanthropy.
Of course, the Gates-big pharma model has been a disaster, with pharmaceutical companies making astronomical profits as they dole out scarce supplies of their patented COVID vaccines to the highest bidders, leaving poor countries with little chance of vaccinating their people before 2024.
This abject failure prompted an alliance of developing nations, led by South Africa and India, to demand that patents be waived for COVID vaccines and drugs until the end of the pandemic.
For months, rich countries rejected the patent-waiver demand. But a surprise recent endorsement by the Biden administration has changed the dynamics somewhat, pushing even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the poor countries' initiative, although Gates himself has not changed his tune.
Among other things, the vaccine tragedy highlights the danger posed by the extreme concentration of wealth and power that Bill Gates represents.
The lesson is as old as the human race itself: You can get rich by exploiting the poor. But you can't get rich by helping them.