Saturday 23 May 2020

Bill Gates Bats for the Great Indian Lockdown (Sunday Guardian)

The lockdown has had visible effects on both society and economy. It is unclear how long it will take to get production lines and services back to pre-lockdown levels.

New Delhi: The most comprehensive and total lockdown in history has been ongoing in India from 25 March. The aim of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he cogitated on the Great Indian Lockdown (GIL) and finally implemented it was obvious. It was to protect as many individuals as possible of the 1.29 billion citizens of the world’s future third superpower from the millions of deaths that a battery of experts had publicly warned was inevitable in the absence of such a drastic measure, one not reproduced in any other country. In the rest of the “locked down” world, the degree of lockdown varies from 30% to 70%. Some have avoided a lockdown altogether, relying on social distancing and enhanced personal hygiene to keep mortality rates low. In India, where even a single Covid-19 case has been discovered, facilities (including medical) have been shut down, so comprehensive is the safety protocol. The disease is being treated as though it has a mortality rate of 90% even though the actual death rate is far lower. Being a leader who cares, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi clearly decided to exercise caution rather than take chances in a matter where so many lives were at risk. And there were those who said three months ago that governance in India was so leaky and inefficient that such a strong measure as a comprehensive nationwide lockdown could never be implemented. Hence, that a catastrophe in the form of millions of coronavirus-related deaths would be “inevitable by the month of May”, and that the deadly curve would continue to rise for much of 2020. The people of India proved such forecasts wrong. They trusted in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and obeyed the lockdown order he issued without significant demur, just as they had stoically accepted the 8 November 2016 demonetisation of 86% of the country’s currency at just four hours’ notice, that too after office hours.

The Great Indian Lockdown (GIL) has had visible effects on both society as well as the economy. It is unclear how long it will take to get production lines and services back to pre-lockdown levels, given the widespread disruption that the measure has caused. Estimates of job losses go into figures never before even imagined as possible in the history of the Republic of India. Given his studied style of functioning, PM Modi would have cogitated over the lockdown measure and discussed it at length with experts and officials before ordering the GIL. At that point in time, an army of academics and medical specialists were originating and recycling information, some of which got mixed with both misinformation and disinformation. The effect was to create an atmosphere through the media such as would ensure the compliance of the population with the complete lockdown for whatever length of time such a move was deemed to be essential by the Prime Minister and his advisors on the subject. Among the reported proponents of such a never-before-attempted measure was Bill Gates. The founder of Microsoft has become an ubiquitous influence in the global health industry, and as such, his apparent recommendation in favour of a comprehensive lockdown wherever the novel coronavirus made an appearance would have been extraordinarily persuasive. At the same time, the leadership of the prestigious Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) seems to have been unanimous in urging just such the lockdown. The head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) was among the first international heavyweights to compliment Modi on the Great Indian Lockdown (GIL). Another was the 45th President of the US, Donald Trump and a third was Director-General Tedros of the WHO, who has been associated with Gates for decades.
Policy missteps as well as ineffective communications strategies have given wings to a global effort by interested elements to falsely claim that India under Narendra Modi is evolving into a Germany under Nazi rule. International media outlets running such outlandish comparisons themselves have journalists working in India, who have not allowed the absence of any evidence of such genocide or mass killings of specified groups to deter them from giving a platform to those peddling such falsehoods, or to repeating them in their own columns and reports. In keeping with the running down of not just the government in India but the people, there has emerged an entire industry of lockdown enthusiasts within the world’s institutes, academic bodies and the media that sprang up during March 2020. They continue to make doomsday predictions about the “expected” or “potential” (i.e. hypothetical) effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in order to ensure that the present Great Indian Lockdown continues for an extended period of time. Almost none of such “scientific and fact-based” reports or studies are based on anything other than mathematical models.
Standing in a league much above such individuals in impact is an individual who has (through his inventive mind and business skills) acquired a degree of financial power that few governments across the world can match. Because of the reach this provides, every cause that he promotes immediately becomes a cause celebre throughout the world, studied, and immediately gets talked respectfully by mediapersons, governments and much of the public. He is known as an individual who studies an issue, then makes up his mind, and who has the reputation of indefatigably charging ahead once his mind gets made up on an issue. This instrument of change is Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who may rank among the most influential persons on the planet outside the four leaders of the world’s two present and two future superpowers, Donald J. Trump, Xi Jinping, Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin.

Bill Gates has within his remit a vast tax-free income with practically no oversight, and has gained the respect and attention of an army of global policymakers and experts who take as gospel the suggestions he makes for governments, media and the public to follow. Wife Melinda is known for her simplicity despite her immense wealth, and for exhibiting a genuine concern for the underprivileged. Melinda Gates is regarded by those in contact with her to be an individual without the societal, political or ethnic biases common to many of those in her societal group.
Unlike Foundations that were created when the founder of a corporation was dead, Gates (assisted by a team carefully chosen by him) controls a huge amount of tax-free money (as well as $30 billion of Warren Buffett’s money) while still relatively young and very active physically. There does not seem to be any Oversight Board supervising the functioning of the Gates Foundation. It would appear that only Bill and Melinda (a couple that have been loyal and close to each other from the start of their relationship) take the investment-related decisions needed to manage the vast sums of money which accrue from their selling Microsoft stock. Much of this is put into the Foundation rather than handed over to their children, as also has been a large chunk of Warren Buffet’s money. The self-effacing Buffet is himself a Trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), but is not co-chair and does not seem to be involved in the major decisions of the Foundation concerning which policy to promote or oppose.

So far as global disease vectors are concerned, initially Gates gave $100 million to create an Institute at the University of Washington in Seattle called Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The founding Board members included Dr Tedros (then Ethiopian Health Minister who is now Director-General of WHO). Thus, they already have an inside track to data from WHO and that UN agency’s associated governments and entities. Health data from Indian Health Ministry may be accessed by the BMGF via WHO, of which Gates has long been a major donor. Information is processed by the Bill and Melinda personal partnership so as to design policies approved by them that would improve the world. Whether all such policies actually accomplish such an ambitious task is a matter yet to be finally decided, at least in some instances. An example is the lockdown policy. Taiwan has had hardly any lockdown, yet has less than 500 Covid-19 cases and very few fatalities. Actual data from countries that have imposed different levels of lockdown do not show any correlation between the extent of a lockdown and the recorded number of cases and fatalities. Meanwhile, the Great Lockdown Theory embraced by both the WHO as well as by the Foundation has caused worldwide economic distress on a scale not seen even in the 1930s except in countries such as Germany during the period of the Weimar Republic. The single track focus on “breaking the chain of infection through lockdown” and thereby “flattening the curve” has caused distress, both financial and societal, on a scale that may not wholly have been factored by Bill and Melinda Gates, who have funded many of those who first came out with alarming figures about likely death tolls from the Covid-19 pandemic. WHO itself has been singularly ineffective in warning the world of the disease before it grew into a devastating pandemic. It is not known whether the Foundation urged a speedier response on Director-General Tedros in the crucial weeks before the WHO finally declared the novel coronavirus to be a global health emergency capable of rapid spread. The respect given to the Gates Foundation and to Gates personally indicates that his views are treated with a high degree of respect, which is why several of the policy prescriptions suggested by him get adopted across the world. Numerous individuals linked to the BMGF are regularly getting placed in important positions, including in the world’s biggest democracies, India and the US.

The Gates Foundation grant to the Institute of Health Metrics & Evaluation (IHME) was renewed. Chris Murray, the Director, decides on the methodology that seems to produce numbers that always fit into existing hypotheses. There does not seem even a semblance of oversight—including by the media—over the numbers that have so prolifically been generated by the IHME. Computer-generated results of the institute are accepted, seemingly without any questioning of the postulates or methodology used to get such results. Gates himself places considerable reliance on its findings. Given the immense respect that BMGF has, it is no surprise that several of those associated with the Foundation have been chosen for senior slots in several multilateral agencies such as WHO, World Bank, etc. There is also an MoU that IHME & Gates has done with WHO for accessing data. Hopefully, universities in India too will gain similar access to WHO data as well as funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Some of this could be used to review existing methodologies used by IHME and other institutions generating similar results, and to suggest alternative options for consideration by the policy community. Having different, indeed clashing, points of view is essential in any scientific enquiry in the post-Galileo age. The Covid-19 fatality numbers generated by grantees of the Gates Foundation (including WHO) seem to have no peer review about the methodology. Except of course by other grantees who seem not to be able to find any fault in the results, not even in conclusions (such as incidence figures in India) that have demonstrably been shown to be wrong. The BMGF may need to go back to the drawing board on some of its assumptions if it is to achieve the vision of Bill and Melinda Gates of being an institution that shines a spotlight revealing pathways to a better world where the underprivileged in particular get the justice that has been denied to them for a very long time.

Bill Gates, through his business acumen, drove into the ground many companies in Silicon Valley in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in Microsoft’s ruthless drive for dominance. Today, Gates is on a mission to create improvements in the global health sector. In the US, healthcare is 17% of GDP, and soon it will be above 10% of GDP in all countries (including private spending in healthcare). Large pharma conglomerates have driven policies and products in directions which benefit their shareholders, but which have sent healthcare costs ballooning to levels unaffordable even in the present. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, even the merest suggestion of promoting any treatment or method of immunity other than the vaccine route has been torn to pieces by those behind what has become the conventional wisdom in battling the coronavirus. This has emphasized the need for a vaccine as well as the use of ventilators over other methods. This in a world where such technologies are unavailable to much of the population, just as the regular banking system or access to online systems was unavailable in 2016 to hundreds of millions including in India, a country where Bill Gates was an early and enthusiastic backer of demonetisation and the ending of currency as a medium of exchange. As initially implemented by North Block and Mint Road, that far-reaching change in a method of exchange that is the lifeblood of the economy was initially structured in such a manner as to severely impact liquidity across vast swathes of the population, especially in rural areas and in slums. Did the BMGF factor in such operational problems before its founder became a forceful proponent of the plan to replace paper money with digital currency through elimination of the latter via governmental edict?

Over the years, there have been efforts by identifiable interests at stealing through patenting traditional technologies (incorrectly regarded with contempt by Atlanticist experts) and herbal cures. Many such cures may indeed be valueless, and some even harmful. But there would be some that deserve adaptation and dissemination, and what seems to be the obsessive focus of the Foundation on the usual track followed by the pharmaceutical industry in the US and the EU may need change. Other options in healthcare need to be given attention, in particular innovations such as the revival of production of vanishing but essential herbs in greenhouses. If the disappearing pools of traditional knowledge were accessed and harnessed in the search for cures and preventives, the world would likely be a better place. The time may have come for Melinda Gates to persuade her partner to look beyond the BGMF’s usual prescriptions. They need to examine with the open-mindedness of the reformist mind how for example generics could be given a boost so as to lower healthcare costs. India, a country that Bill Gates seems to have a particular affinity for, could serve as the location for much more than vaccine trials. Traditional immunity boosters used over the centuries in China and India may potentially save (at much less cost) many lives, just the way the pills and injections multiplying across the globe do. In an era of Alternative Energy, the time may have arrived for Bill Gates to turn his attention towards the possible development of provable, safe and effective Alternative Medicine in addition to the conventional fields of study already attempted. Human lives are precious, but they need affordable options in order for them to be accessed. This calls for measures other than those relied upon by Big Pharma-centric policies and the often hugely expensive favoured protocols of treatment promoted by the US National Institute of Health, another institution that has received favourable attention from Bill and Melinda Gates. As Sanatan Dharma postulates, there may be many paths to a single goal and not just a single pathway. Hopefully the BMGF will study in detail the full effects of the Great Lockdown as well as the Great Demonetization, both being policies that appear to have received its enthusiastic support. Or that Bill and Melinda will ensure that it study possible alternatives rather than coming to an early conclusion and then making the mathematical models fit the conclusions already arrived at. When Bill Gates speaks, media and policymakers listen. Hence the need for the Foundation to proceed in such a manner that not simply the immediate effects but the “morning after” gets accurately mapped out. The law of unintended consequences must never be forgotten.

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