What is win-win politics? The clearest example of this is Germany and Europe after the Second World War. Germany’s priority was to be rehabilitated and Europe’s was for the former to be contained. The European coal and steel community, the founding kernel of the EU, did just that. In one stroke, it both rehabilitated Germany and by nationalising the two most important assets of war making, it also castrated the country militarily.
While this was a grand developmental strategy, in 2020 China and the World Health Organization (WHO) can be seen as the crony version of this win-win arrangement, where the net result is that both warring parties win, but China wins the biggest.
Cronyism and WHO
Cronyism, of course, is the legal version of corruption. It usually has some cover. In the WHO’s case, any declaration about a conflict of interest absolves it from that conflict of interest.
4SD sounds absolutely anodyne till you start decoding what the jargon means in terms of global health politics. The cronyism starts early at the student/researcher phase, which highlights why Nabarro also doubles up as co-director of Imperial College’s Institute of Global Health Innovation.
Younger medical researchers I spoke to said on the condition of anonymity that they dare not question the higher ups. Why? Because the modus operandi is that the “thought leader” sets the intellectual discourse. The students are required to validate these discourses. In return, while some are setup at NGOs like the Gates and Buffett foundations, others get to join multilateral institutions.
This skews the discourse on either ends — the student and the foundation. If the student doesn’t toe the line, then the research proposal either gets junked since the funding gets denied. And if the philanthropist at a foundation agrees to fund a proposal, then the student guides the research towards the “thought leader” he/she worked under & got them the job.
Obviously, the medicine companies never question this cycle of cronyism because these same “thought leaders” determine where the focus areas of research should be and where the funding for innovation and research should go.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? It also explains why Nabarro holds three jobs: at the UN, academic and advocacy, which is a fundamental conflict of interest, but not legally deemed as such simply because Nabarro declared where all he works.
China understands this only too well. The entire 2017 election of the WHO director was a farce because none of the candidates had any differing views on any subject. All candidates subscribed to the same dogmas and went overboard trying to please China. And through China, they got African votes, as I had discussed in my previous article.
Nabarro used his alleged differences with Tedros to somehow fool the Taiwanese into believing that he was marginally “more friendly” to them, and so, Taiwan encouraged all the 21 countries that recognise it as a separate nation to vote for him. This is the name of the game: 50 shades of cronyism. To suitably masquerade as “diversity of opinion” without any difference in approach or thought.
The other parties
This cronyism doesn’t end here and for that we need to look at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s pet disease TB. As an industry insider said on condition of anonymity: “They fund and promote a company called Cepheid for TB detection kits. This kit called GeneXpert was fast-tracked at an unusual pace and promoted by the WHO, monopolising the market. All this before peer review could begin to validate the success of the kit.”
One part of this entire rotten edifice of cronyism is public validation and creation of a positive image in the press. For an example, we needn’t look any further than India.
A public health journalist covering one of the players in this network, the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), was quite content to report about it without disclosing her own past association with the PHFI in her articles. Needless to say, despite being wrong on every one of her prognosis, she is now the go-to person for every Western publication wanting to run a Covid story on India.
Notice the trend here? There are no losers. Everybody wins as long as they go along with the consensus. This is why the politicisation of the WHO is a tiny microcosm of the rampant corruption that the entire system is caught up in.
China being able to manipulate the election of Tedros shows how it can manipulate anyone in this ecosystem. The only people who suffer are the general public and the only time anyone pays attention is when things go horribly wrong as they have with Covid-19.
Tedros, who is now reduced to tweeting out monosyllabic phrases to cover up his failure, may be forced to resign. But the corrupt edifice of public health — essentially a money siphoning enterprise dressed up as altruism — funded to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars will continue after using him as a sacrificial lamb.
The author is a senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. He tweets @iyervval. Views are personal.