Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman in his annual letter pushed back against criticism about the organization’s power and influence on key public health initiatives around the world, saying it is not trying to set the world’s agenda on global health and development issues but only “respond to it,” as the foundation announced its biggest ever annual budget Tuesday.
In the annual letter, Suzman outlined the Gates Foundation’s plans to spend $8.3 billion on various initiatives in 2023—its highest-ever annual amount—before addressing multiple criticisms leveled at the organization.
Without specifically naming anyone the letter pushed back against criticism that “unelected billionaires setting the agenda for global health and development,” saying they simply respond to the agenda already set by global bodies and rely on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as guidance.
The letter noted the foundation makes all of its investments public and tries to be “fully transparent about our priorities and strategies.”
Suzman, however, said he agrees with the argument that it is “not right for a private philanthropy to be one of the largest funders of multinational global health efforts,” adding that countries should be fully funding these initiatives.
The Gates Foundation is the second-largest donor to the World Health Organization’s programs and Suzman argues this is because “countries have decreased their contributions.”
Suzman added he’d love to see many more governments pass the Gates foundation on the list of the WHO’s top donors “because that would mean more lives saved.”
“We’ll be looking for even more effective ways to accelerate innovation and spur action toward the global goals. That doesn’t mean we will set the agenda of multilateral organizations like WHO and the Global Fund. Nor will we decide which malaria drugs regulators approve, or what research scientists pursue. We won’t decide which seeds farmers plant in their fields or which curriculum a school system adopts or whether a bed net is hung in a home,” Suzman said.
$9 billion. That is the total amount that the Gates Foundation has committed to spending annually by 2026.
Bill and Melinda Gates’ philanthropic efforts have been scrutinized by public health experts, activists and academics for several years due to the sheer size of their endowment and their influence on global health issues. This scrutiny has grown sharply over the past couple of years amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the foundation’s involvement in funding various therapeutics and vaccines to fight the coronavirus. In 2020, Kaiser Health News reported that the Gates Foundation urged the University of Oxford to reverse course on its plan to donate the rights to its Covid-19 vaccine on a non-exclusive basis and instead sign an exclusive agreement deal with AstraZeneca giving it the sole rights to manufacture and license the vaccine. In an interview with the New York Times later that year, Melinda Gates said vaccine makers should be allowed to make a small profit “because we want them to stay in business.” Aside from serious critics, the foundation and its founder Bill Gates have been the target of multiple debunked conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and vaccines. Some experts have questioned the Gates foundation’s priorities when it comes to global health issues while others have questioned the effectiveness of their work.
They Pledged to Donate Rights to Their COVID Vaccine, Then Sold Them to Pharma (Kaiser Health News)