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In Part II, I sketched the roots of America’s tradition of work in the biological and chemical sciences within the context of two institutions: the Rockefeller Institute and the Institute for Advanced Study. I dedicated much of that post to making connections between “Rockefeller men” like Simon and Abraham Flexner, Hideo Noguchi, and Cornelius “Dusty” Rhoads precisely because of their work in the study, work and legacy on infectious diseases. From the beginning, the work of US-based scientists (and others who will be discussed as we continue) with respect to infectious diseases has been international, political, adversial, and couched as philanthropy. Historians, by and large, acknowledge that Rockefeller’s immersion in this work served two functions: first, to provide the billionaire with a means to improve the public perception of him and his empire; second, to provide the United States government and those of Europe with a means to understand, control and restrict the provision of health care in various colonial possessions.
Many of the leading figures during this era were advocates of the idea of eugenics. There are several complications with this idea – not the least of which is the biological notion of race and the subjective list of factors which white supremacists have deemed to constitute “race.” By way of example, a Ghanaian person with “black” skin, thin lips and nose (relatively speaking), and liniferous hair is considered “Black” or “negroid.” A person from the Indian sub-continent with the skin color, width of lips and hair with straight hair is deemed “Caucasian.” However, according to racial scientists, hair texture does not determine “race.” While the depth of this particular deception is beyond the scope of this post, it must suffice to say that “Caucasians” (as an international people) are a fiction of a man who had an odd fascination with the skull of a young female war casualty – and that the Indian connection to those mythical “whites” is tenuous, at best. Given all of this, my discussions of “race” seldom, if ever, focus on biology. The focus is on measures of collective and individual control and power, as refracted through the illusion of biology. And the illusion precludes rationality (look below…who is “white” and why? – well, depending on whom you ask, they all are, one is, two are or none are)…
Eugenics, according to the following definition:
the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, esp. by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics)
Cornelius Packard Rhoads provided an interesting point of departure because his letter, written in the 1930’s in Puerto Rico, put forward a perspective that was and is widely shared in certain circles. In addition to affirming the virtue in exterminating all Puerto Ricans, he added, “The matter of consideration for patients’ welfare plays no role here – in fact, all physicians take delight in the abuse and torture of the unfortunate subjects.” Abuse and torture, as a principle, cannot be divorced from notions of personal sovereignty, citizenship, and collective force. For persons without the capacity to resist, they are subject to the impositions of others…they are subjects.
Borrowing again from Susan Lederer:
“Humor and racial difference between the investigator and the research subject appeared in Harvard microbiologist Hans Zinsser’s semi-autobiographical account As I Remember Him: The Biography of R.S. (Zinnser apparently used the initials R.S. for “romantic self” or “real self” to refer to himself). In this popular account, serialized in 1939 in the Atlantic Monthly, the microbiologist contrasted the rich man’s big-game hunting in Africa with his own “little-game hunting” in Boston.
Whereas big-game hunting was a comfortable occupation “in which one employs ‘express rifles’ to shoot with, black boys or goats as bait, and professional hunters to prevent accidents on safari,” “little-game hunting,” R.S. insisted, required considerably more ingenuity to trap the insects that carried malaria, plague, typhus, spotted fever, and other dangerous diseases. For his work on typhus, the researcher needed to acquire local lice from the Boston area. Unsuccessful in his canvas of the bedbug preserves in flophouses and cheap motels, R.S.’s assistant accosted a policeman near the Harvard Medical School, who, fascinated by the strangeness of the quest, offered “an old coon that sells pencils down near the South Station” as a source of the insects.
After dragging the reluctant Mr. Collins to the police station, the police captain implored the pencil vendor to allow the researcher to examine his head. “I ain’t done nothin’,” Collins repeated. “I’m an American citizen and I got my rights. I dunno what youse all talkin’ bout de cause o’ science.” Threatened with arrest in the “cause of science,” the vendor eventually allowed the researcher to remove the nits from his “crinkly hair.”
The jocular tone, the vulgar racial characterization, and the dialect adopted by R.S. in this vignette illustrate the casual and explicitly public appropriation by laboratory researchers of the bodies of African Americans. Like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the 40-year-study of untreated syphilis in African-American men conducted between 1932 and 1972, such appropriation was no secret.”
What should be evident from a close reading of these tales (deeper than the glimpses provided here) is the confluence of interest and action between the private sector (the Rockefeller empire), the not-for-profit sector (the Rockefeller Foundation), the academy (Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Rockefeller Institute, Johns Hopkins University), the fourth estate (the New York Times, Time Magazine, Atlantic Monthly), and the military (Boston police, military incursions into Puerto Rico and the Philippines). The emergence of biological and chemical research and experimentation which objectified Black and other bodies was part of a broader cultural framework. The value system of the scientists was consistent with broader societal beliefs and was framed within a pseudo-humanitarian “box” which condoned the invasion of the sovereign body in the same way that the notion of “civilization” and “democracy” and “capitalism” condoned the invasion of sovereign lands.
The invasion of sovereign lands has always been a complicated endeavor for Europeans. The spectre of disease has always loomed large. Eradication, then, has been critical to support the managerial requirements of appropriating wealth from “hostile environments.” In most instances, stating that objective has been too bold for public consumption. Instead, Western philanthropists have emphasized the long-term needs of children versus the short-term needs of adults in their approaches to humanitarian aid. For children, the priorities are education (solution: build schools), healthcare (solution: provide vaccines), and security (solution: subsidize persons or groups promising democracy or at least access to markets and natural resources). For adults, the issues are a bit different – and adults are not the focal point of these efforts – except as it relates to testing.
In December 2003, the Seattle Post Intelligencer hit the mark. Tom Paulson, the lead writer on Gates Foundation initiatives, wrote:
“Bill Gates is waging a revolution in global health.
The battleground is disease prevention, not treatment. The tactics are businesslike performance, not traditional charitable giving.
Its weapons are improved health technologies that, if successful, will reproduce in the Third World like an e-mail virus.
Only countries that can demonstrate progress against disease and are willing to invest in their own public health systems receive money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions to improve the health of the world’s poorest. Within five years, those countries are expected to immunize at least 80 percent of their children, gradually picking up more of the tab.”
This is not the approach to humanitarian aid that most people imagine when they think of Bill and Melinda Gates or Bill Clinton. This is a narrowly focused initiative intended to achieve a specific aim. Paulson continues:
“In some desperately poor nations, corrupt governments and a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses make establishment of a rudimentary public health system a huge challenge. Those systems must be in place before children can get their shots.
Gates, the world’s richest man with the world’s biggest philanthropic war chest at $24 billion, has made fighting disease in the developing world his top humanitarian priority.
The Seattle philanthropy spends about $800 million a year on global health — nearly the same as the World Health Organization’s annual budget and about as much as the U.S. Agency for International Development gave this year to fight AIDS and other diseases in developing countries.
“I don’t think very many people appreciate just how significant this is, in both concept and scope,” said Dr. William Foege, the former chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foege, who crafted the global strategy that defeated smallpox, now advises Gates.
In effect, the Microsoft co-founder has become the director of his own world health organization.”
The scope of the enterprise contemplated by the Foundation is enormous. However, for Bill Gates, this expenditure amounts to a tithe. In the Church of Infectious Disease Eradication, his commitment of more than $3 billion should go a long way to opening doors for the West.
“The foundation has so far spent $3.2 billion on hundreds of public health programs in more than 100 Third World countries. Gates is especially interested in expanding access to basic and new vaccines. He is focused largely on preventing the spread of disease.
“There really isn’t anything like vaccines, where you can so simply save so many millions of lives,” Gates said in an interview.
Nearly four years after he launched the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, or GAVI, with $750 million in seed money, an estimated 300,000 children’s lives have been saved.
The ultimate goal is much more ambitious: Stop the 3 million child deaths caused every year by conditions such as measles, diarrhea, hepatitis or tetanus.
Although Gates portrays himself as a partner in these global health efforts, his rapid rise in the arena has reverberated worldwide — and made him controversial.”
With $3 billion committed to this global initiative, it is worth asking if there are any limitations to Gates’ reach. It appears there are a few which merit elucidation.
The foundation’s strategy can best be understood as triage.
Triage was developed by World War I battlefield doctors facing an overwhelming number of wounded. Recognizing that they couldn’t care for everyone, medics gave the highest priority to those for whom immediate help could do the most good. The most severely injured soldiers were simply allowed to die.
When it comes to global health, most leaders talk in terms of moral obligations. Children have a “right” to live a healthy life. Sick people “deserve” care. Nobody should be left to die.
But the Gates game plan was prompted by a sobering reality: Many sick and deserving people don’t get basic care, particularly in the Third World. Many lives are cut short for lack of a vaccine or drug that costs only pennies.
“The thing that just screamed out to me is that these very low-cost interventions like vaccines were not getting attention,” Gates said.
AIDS, for which there is no vaccine or cure, is widely regarded as the top priority in global health. AIDS receives most of the attention and money in global health because it kills about 3 million people a year and is still a scourge for the West as well as for the developing world.
Yet many millions more die from “routine” diseases that can be easily prevented by vaccines or cured by cheap drugs. A study in The Lancet, the British medical journal, estimated this global death toll at nearly 11 million a year — about the number of people who live in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Using another yardstick — a widely accepted WHO method for calculating the impact of disease called “disability-adjusted life years” — AIDS ranks as just the fourth-leading cause of death and disability worldwide, behind respiratory illnesses, tuberculosis and diarrhea.
There is something wrong with this picture. And this one…
Resolving the critical needs of African adults – the care takers of African children – requires different solutions. For all the millions spent to cure the fourth leading cause of death, thousands of African communities continue to suffer from the THREE LEADING CAUSES of DEATH for lack of a 21st century WATER and SANITATION system.
Do these folks actually want to keep the baby, and throw out the parents with the bathwater?
Madonna, giddy from her seizure of 13 month-old David Banda (son of Yohane Banda), created a foundation called Raising Malawi. Her foundation is actually a subsidiary of The Kabbalah Centre International. (Readers are encouraged to forward any and all references in the Kabbalah concerning the theft of children.) I am certain that Madonna has underwear more costly than the contribution which might have kept young David with his father, but that is beside the point. After all, she is a free woman – and not a subject. And who are the Malawians to resist this student of an ancient mystical tradition? After all, it was in Malawi where the pre-Nazi Germans introduced and perfected their techniques for concentration camps, medical experimentation with humans, and techniques for murder.
By the way, the Clinton Foundation was the first big institutional supporter of Madonna’s conduit for soothing the aches of “white” female infertility.
More in Part IV…including a word or two about British pharmaceutical giants in the Sudan.