Members of the steering group of National Health Mission (NHM) Tuesday cornered the government with objections about Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) paying for the secretariat of the national advisory group on vaccines — the most powerful decision-making body which decides on vaccines that should become part of the government’s immunisation programme.
Several members of the steering group, which met at Vigyan Bhawan, questioned the government about the propriety of the secretariat of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) having been moved out of Nirman Bhawan and what effect it would have on India’s vaccine policy that the secretariat staff is not paid for by the government.
A steering group member said, “The NTAGI secretariat has been moved out of the ministry to the office of Public Health Foundation of India and the 32 staff members in that secretariat draw their salaries from the BMGF. There is a clear conflict of interest — on one hand, the BMGF funds the secretariat that is the highest decision making body in vaccines and, on the other, it partners the pharma industry in GAVI. This is unacceptable.”
The BMGF is one of the partners of international vaccine alliance GAVI that has given material and financial grants for India’s vaccine programme and also lists the pharmaceutical industry among its partners.
NTAGI member Dr Jacob Puliyel had recently raised some of these issues in a newspaper article following which members were asked to sign a confidentiality clause. NTAGI sources said Puliyel raised the matter of the BMGF link being a conflict of interest in several meetings but none of his objections were recorded in the minutes. Puliyel himself refused to comment.
The government told the steering group that it is drafting a code of ethics and will run it through experts before notifying it.
Confirming that the matter had been raised, a senior health ministry official said, “We will give them whatever documents they have asked for; everything concerning the matter (of NTAGI and BMGF) will be made public. We are moving swiftly on the code of conduct to ensure full disclosures of any conflict of interest.”