Gates Philanthropy in Stem Cell Transplant for Damaged Heart
Dr. Lilian Joensen exposes the Gates Foundation’s betrayal of public trust
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Innovative treatment for damaged heart targeted by Gates Foundation
In 2004, some patients in Argentina whose hearts were severely damaged as the
result of contracting Chagas disease (caused by a protozoan parasite Trypanosoma
cruzi)were successfully treated with stem cells isolated from the
patients’ own bone marrow and transplanted into the heart. This made headline
news in Argentina and elsewhere  (Bone Marrow Cells Repair Heart
Damaged by Chagas' Disease, SiS 25). See also Patient's
Own Stem Cells Mend Heart , SiS 25).
Soon afterwards, representatives from the Gates Foundation approached Dr.
Trainini, the cardiologist who pioneered the treatment. At the time, several
research teams from the public health sector had come together to start a collaborative
research programme, including those from the National Institute of Parasitology
(where I work), and public hospitals in different parts of Argentina that normally
deal with patients suffering from Chagas disease, as well as immunologists and
social researchers, and technicians.
Chagas Disease is a disease
of the poor in Latin America and the public sector has always
been responsible for its diagnosis and treatment, as well as for education,
prevention, and research.
The representatives of the
Gates Foundation told Dr. Trainini that the Foundation was interested in supporting the project. The amount mentioned
was US$2 million.
Public effort and resources poured into the project proposal
Trainini immediately started the round of meetings and talks with all
the teams involved, which would be partners in project. The process of planning,
discussing, designing and drafting the project proposal took several months.
A lot of original thought and research findings as well as time and other
resources went into the proposal from the public sector. For although Chagas’
disease is under-funded and the doctors, researchers and healthcare professionals
working on it are underpaid, they are much respected because working for Chagas
disease is seen to be serving the poor and the neglected of society. Argentina
is a very big country, and people have to travel considerable distances to
work together, thereby incurring substantial extra expenses, all paid for
by the Argentine government.
Finally, a project proposal
was presented to representatives of the Gates Foundation who had approached
Dr. Trainini. The project was laid out in three parts with detailed protocols
for each part. The first part consists of the protocol for the autologous
(where the donor is also the recipient) bone marrow stem cell transplants,
to be performed in the public hospitals. The second part consists of social
research work in fighting the disease vector, alleviating poverty and the
conditions that give rise to the disease, and follow up in local communities
in the provinces. The third part describes the basic research to be carried
out in the public research institutions.
Gates’ grant given to the private sector, with the project proposal
On receiving the proposal, the representatives of the Gates Foundation
appeared to Dr. Trainini to be very satisfied, as they had been with the proceedings
at all times, so he was quite unprepared for what came next.
The representatives took
the project proposal delivered by Dr. Trainini and decided that they would
support groups from the private sector to do the work. In other words, they
took the original ideas and protocols carefully set out by Dr. Trainini and
his collaborators in the public sector, and unscrupulously handed them over
to the private sector, believing that the private sector could do the work
The question of confidentiality
then came up. None of the public sector groups involved were prepared to negotiate
on that. It has been a premise from the first with Dr. Trainini and his collaborators
that all the work would be published with no confidentiality conditions of
any kind attached. This had to be independent research for the good of the
Chagas patients, and those in the provinces that are infected
or at risk of becoming so.
Dr. Trainini was outraged,
especially as during the discussion with his collaborators, people from the
provinces involved in the project had expressed their suspicion to Dr. Trainini.
These foundations, they said, were always talking about funding projects for
the poor without any real intention of doing so. But, Dr. Trainini is a very
honest and idealistic person, somewhat naïve, and not used to such sharp practices.
In my own defence, I must
say that when I heard that the Gates Foundation was involved, I immediately
told the people from the Secretariat of Science and Technology that they should
be very careful, if they really expected these
people to have good intentions for the State and the people. I was assured
that if something “strange” came up, the whole deal would be cancelled on
our part. And fortunately, it was; but not before a lot of time, effort and
other resources had been wasted.
Now the Provinces in Argentina
said that they would be watching; if any team in the private sector ever starts
to work with Chagas’ disease, they would do everything in their power to put
a stop to it and expel the team. The Gates Foundation has become very, very
unpopular in this sector of Argentina.
I telephoned the Coordinator
of Health at the Argentine Secretariat of Science and Technology in April
2007 for an up-date, as I had been asked to post this story to the GM-free
Africa list. I asked the coordinator if he would allow me to
give his e-mail address to anyone who wanted more detailed first-hand information
about this Gates Foundation episode, and he said that he would gladly tell
the story to whoever is interested. Please send enquiries to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org,
The moral here is: “Don’t
be naïve with these people. They belong to a certain ideological group that
do not see social issues the same way we do. They have very specific interests
also when it comes to ”charity”. The word “charity” in itself is ideologically
marked and is insulting to us, simply because it implies a great deal of colonial
patronage. Neo-liberalism is about the private sector taking over the public
sector. And the Gates Foundation is obviously involved in this initiative,
even to the extent of stealing ideas and knowledge from the public sector
and giving them to the private sector for its capability to make money.”