By Prof. Shima Gyoh
I have never met Bill Gates in person, but I know he has devoted much of his time and wealth to survival programmes in poor countries. It is regrettable that someone who has done so much in support of child survival, reduction of maternal mortality, establishing water and sanitation programmes and many worthwhile facilities, should be accused of being a monster of grotesque dimensions.
I was President of the Nigerian Society for Family Health and Member of the Board of Management for the Washington based Population Services International for many years. It involved working with many British, American, European and private international donors funding many infrastructural programmes to improve the quality of life for people in poor countries, both in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Private donors like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are very actively involved.
There is a strong anti-vaccination, religion-driven movement in the developed world. In 1998, one of their members, Dr. Andrew Wakefield published a paper in the respected Lancet medical journal, claiming a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. When it was established to be based on fake claims, it was retracted and Wakefield expelled from the medical profession, but the movement never lost momentum. They have an active websites that manufactures conspiracy theories and plays on the superstitious proclivity of human nature to promote fear, using pseudo-scientific language to impress the uninitiated. There is in current circulation an impressive history, linking the very likeable philanthropist to a long line of bloodthirsty ancestry.
The former Minister of Health, Professor Olikoye Ransome-Kuti and I (then Director-General) did a lot, beginning with “immunisations days” to persuade the Nigerian public to accept childhood immunisation as part of our family culture. Even though we did not succeed to the extent we wanted, child and maternal survival were considerably improved. Bill Gates and other donors provide additional funds for crucial programmes, complementing the efforts of our governments. It pains me to see the achievements being threatened, and one of its chief funders being denounced purely on blind faith in superstition. This attack was started from advanced countries, and it has bothered many good Nigerians whether we are being conned.
Nigerians working with people like Bill Gates are not all dunces. As health professionals, we knew more medicine than Bill Gates, so there was no way he could hoodwink us on health matters even if he were that inclined. When you go to the extent of suspecting that the secret services of advanced countries conceal chemicals in the drugs they sell us to depress the fertility of black people, don’t forget we have independent quality testing abilities for all consumables we purchase. We would also notice adverse effects on our patients, who are not only our compatriots, but often include members of our families. What we cannot do is cure people of their persecution complexes.
Progress in understanding of disease has resulted in the science of immunisation that has greatly reduced child mortality, and eliminated such highly lethal diseases like small pox. The salvation of the world from COVID-19 may well lie in development of a vaccine. This is a wrong time for circulating vitriol against vaccination.