No: the WHO is Not ‘Owned’ by Private Interests

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No, the WHO is Not ‘Owned’ by Private Interests

Rational discourse having become virtually impossible on the platform previously known as Twitter, which is increasingly dominated by mind-numbingly repetitive and seemingly unchallengeable memes, I today start an occasional series which I will call the ‘De-Memeinator’.

It will not require any great effort of proof on my part to show that the WHO is dominated by private interests: first and foremost among them, equally needless to say, being Bill Gates. This is established fact, at least on X, having been established by the ceaseless repetition of memes like this one.

Who really owns the #WHO ?

“The WHO is sustained by private donations, the bulk of which are made by pharmaceutical and biotech corporations,” the presumably computer-generated voice declaims, before the odd video moves on to what are in fact completely unrelated matters.

But the problem is that the notion that the WHO is largely funded by private sources is not only demonstrably false, but also wildly misleading. Private interests strictly speaking, i.e., the corporations alluded to in the video, only account for a miniscule part of the WHO budget; and even if we add in funding from philanthropies like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the private contribution to the WHO budget is still dwarfed by public funding, i.e., funding from member states and other international organisations.

The entire ‘the-WHO-is-owned-by-private-interests’ meme is based on nothing more than a conflation of ‘voluntary’ and ‘private’. Yes, the WHO budget largely depends on voluntary contributions: voluntary funding accounts for nearly 90% of all WHO funding. But who ever said that this voluntary funding comes from private sources? Some of it does, but most of it does not. Most of it comes from the very same member states who are also required to make assessed contributions to the WHO budget, but who may, as they see fit, voluntarily contribute more.

Consider the below chart, which shows the leading sources of “specified” voluntary contributions to the WHO budget for the 2020-2021 biennium, i.e., essentially the Covid period. The “specified” voluntary contributions make up the great bulk of all voluntary contributions to the WHO budget and also confer the greatest influence over the organisation, since they are earmarked for specific uses. ‘Thematic’ voluntary contributions, as the name implies, are earmarked for specific areas and thus also confer influence; whereas ‘core’ voluntary contributions are unearmarked, going into the core budget, and hence are tantamount to charitable donations.

Consider the below chart, which shows the leading sources of “specified” voluntary contributions to the WHO budget for the 2020-2021 biennium, i.e., essentially the Covid period.

As can be seen, whereas the Gates Foundation was unsurprisingly a major source of specified voluntary funds, it was not the leading source of them. The leading source of specified voluntary funding during the Covid biennium – as should come as a surprise to those who have been misled by the meme under discussion – was rather the member state Germany.

And before anyone – ‘thinking in memes’ – tells me that, well, GAVI is essentially a Gates organisation and GAVI plus the Gates Foundation still provided more voluntary funding than Germany, please have a look at the below breakdown of GAVI’s own funding for the current funding period. Contrary to what one would be led to believe by the ‘Gates-is-GAVI’ meme, GAVI receives the great bulk of its own funding from public sources and German funding even of GAVI outstrips Gates funding.

GAVI receives the great bulk of its own funding from public sources and German funding even of GAVI outstrips Gates funding.

During the Covid biennium, Germany was also the leading provider of ‘thematic’ voluntary funding to the WHO, as can be seen in the below chart. The German-dominated and itself largely German-funded European Union, under the leadership of the former German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen, was the second largest provider of ‘thematic’ funding. (It was the sixth largest provider of ‘specified’ funding.) The Gates Foundation did not provide any ‘thematic’ funding.

During the Covid biennium, Germany was also the leading provider of ‘thematic’ voluntary funding to the WHO

On the other hand, Germany provided literally zero non-earmarked – so to say, purely disinterested –  ‘core’ voluntary funding. (The leading provider of ‘core’ voluntary funding during the Covid biennium was the United Kingdom.)

Furthermore, as I have shown in my earlier article here, whereas most of the Gates Foundation funding during the Covid biennium continued to be earmarked for the same use to which Gates funding had always been devoted, namely polio eradication, virtually all of the German voluntary funding went precisely to the COVID-19 response. The Gates Foundation provided veritable peanuts for the latter purpose: roughly $25 million in all as compared to the roughly $830 million – 33 times more – which Germany poured into the COVID-19 response budget. (The relevant funding data can be found here.)

Were it not for the effects of the ‘the-WHO-is-owned-by-private-interests’ meme, this massive influx of German money ought to raise questions about Germany’s motivations. This is especially so since Germany had not been a leading provider of voluntary funding in the past and since the German Government also just happens to have sponsored the mRNA drug developer BioNTech and the BioNTech vaccine, which would be made the very focal point of the COVID-19 response, at least in the West.

recent analysis of voluntary WHO funding by Iwunna et al. found that private funding of the WHO has in fact been declining and that the contribution of private corporations accounted for just 1% of all voluntary contributions in 2020. Note that this means that the contributions of private corporations account for less than 1% of the WHO budget overall, since the total budget consists of both voluntary and assessed contributions. The contributions of private philanthropies like the Gates Foundation accounted for 17% of all voluntary contributions in 2020.

Thus, only 18% of all voluntary funding came from unambiguously ‘private’ sources. As can be seen in the below graph from Iwunna et al., the remaining 82% came either directly from the member states themselves (55%) or from other UN agencies besides the WHO, other international organisations like the European Union, international financial institutions like the World Bank, public-private ‘partnerships’ like GAVI – which, as the above graph makes clear, are themselves overwhelmingly dependent precisely on public sources of funding – and NGOs, which likewise largely depend on public sponsors such as the EU for their funding.

 dependent precisely on public sources of funding – and NGOs, which likewise largely depend on public sponsors such as the EU for their funding.

In short, it is fair to conclude that roughly 80% of all voluntary WHO funding comes precisely from public sources: either WHO members states or international institutions and other organisations which are themselves funded by states.

Furthermore, since, per Iwunna et al.’s calculations, 12% of the WHO budget is still funded by assessed contributions, this means that roughly 90% of the WHO budget overall is funded, either directly or indirectly, by states.

So, why is it a well-established fact on X that precisely the opposite is the case, that the WHO is ‘owned’ by private interests? What is going on? Was not the whole point of Elon Musk’s famous dictum ‘freedom of speech is not freedom of reach’ to contain misinformation? In pledging fealty to the EU’s Digital Services Act, did Musk not promise that ‘Community Notes’ would be “transformational” in this regard?

Was not the whole point of Elon Musk’s famous dictum ‘freedom of speech is not freedom of reach’ to contain misinformation? In pledging fealty to the EU’s Digital Services Act, did Musk not promise that ‘Community Notes’ would be “transformational” in this regard?

When has a ‘Community Note’ ever corrected the misinformation represented by the ‘the-WHO-is-owned-by-private-interests’ meme? And why should the ‘Community’ – whatever that is – even be required to intervene? Should it not be possible for individual users to address factually incorrect or misleading claims and for these challenges to gain visibility, thus correcting misinformation the old-fashioned way, viz. through dialogue and debate?

But apparently this is not possible. My own modest attempt at addressing the post cited at the outset of this article and pointing out the confusion between ‘private’ and ‘voluntary’ received no engagement, other than a ‘like’ from a sexbot, until I reposted it myself to my followers.

Why does blatant misinformation trend on X, whereas incontrovertible facts languish in obscurity? Either we have simply to despair for humanity or the X algorithm must be making this happen.

Robert Kogon is the pen name of a widely-published journalist covering European affairs. Subscribe to his Substack.