Ex-WHO Scientist David Bell: Will New Pandemic Treaty Cause Permanent Lockdowns?
With the World Health Organization (WHO) set to discuss a global pandemic treaty and far-reaching amendments to the 2005 International Health Regulations, we sit down with Dr. David Bell, an expert in global health and infectious disease.
“Even though it doesn’t directly change sovereignty, in effect, it does. It takes away the ability of the people of that country to make their own decisions,” says Dr. Bell.
And more importantly, these proposals will create a bureaucracy “whose existence is dependent on pandemics,” says Dr. Bell. “They’ll have a very vested interest in finding outbreaks, declaring them potential pandemics, and then responding. It’s the way that they will survive.”
And it appears that they will make lockdowns “a permanent feature of pandemic responses,” Dr. Bell says.
Dr. Bell is a public health physician. He has previously worked at the World Health Organization; as programme head for malaria and febrile diseases at the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) in Geneva; and as director of Global Health Technologies at the Intellectual Ventures Global Good Fund. He is now on the board of Pandemics, Data, and Analytics (PANDA), a group studying the world’s response to COVID-19.
Jan Jekielek: Dr. David Bell, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
David Bell: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so we’re going to talk about something that everyone is buzzing about right now, this pandemic treaty. I’ve heard it is also called the pandemic accord. Also, the International Health Regulations that are being looked at simultaneously, this zero draft document, which recently, again, a lot of people are commenting on. There’s a lot of really scary things being said about it.
Before we jump into that, okay, I want to get you just to tell me a little bit of how you have been over decades involved in the realm of global public health, so people understand where you’re coming from.
Dr. Bell: So I’m a public health physician by background and had internal physician training before that, PhD in population health, which include disease modeling and infectious disease. So I have a background in the area of disease outbreaks, et cetera. I worked in the World Health Organization for about eight years, coordinating the rollout of malaria diagnostics at a village level. So it’s this global role based in the Philippines, in the original office there, and then led the fever and malaria portfolios at FIND, which is a foundation in Geneva, developing diagnostics or funding that.
I was Director of Global Health Technologies at Global Good Fund, which is or was essentially Bill Gates’ development lab in Seattle or in Bellevue, just out of Seattle. So what has happened in the last two years is not out of the blue, firstly. There’s been some shifts that we can go into towards the direction of verticalization and centralization of health control.
It was clear in February-March, 2020, that orthodox public health was essentially being abandoned in the response to COVID-19, and we never undid these lockdowns. Lockdown was a term that was used and it’s never been used before. It’s not a public health term before that. So this is a new concept. So yes, as this stretches out, it’s very clear from basic public health that something like what we now call a lockdown will be very harmful to a lot of people and to the population overall. That’s just orthodox public health.
When these were being pushed and we had modeling, giving numbers of dead without any relationship to age or comorbidities or the harm that a response would do, and public health, again, is weighing cost and benefits. Anything you do is going to have some cost and hopefully some benefits. Whether you do it and whether you keep doing it depends on knowing that the benefits are outweighing the cost. Those benefits are in health, which is broad. It’s not just physical, but as WHO says it’s mental and societal health.
It’s also in things like human rights. It’s in the ability of families to get together and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner or see their dying loved ones. So it’s very clear that a lot of harm will be caused by lockdowns. There was very little noise about this. In the media, there was a very strange concentration on numbers dead. So, “The New York Times” every day would have 260 dead, 300 dead [and] no relationship to were these people very sick and soon to die anyway. How old were they? It turns out they were the average age of death, though mainly were old people.
There was no context at all to any of this. It was just numbers out of the blue. No one could understand that, yes, but much more people died of cancer today or heart disease today, which has been the case right through. In the global health, international health field, the same thing was happening. We were locking down countries that were intrinsically not at risk from COVID from the beginning because we knew it was very much from China. We knew it was concentrated on old people or not exclusively, obviously, but very significantly and also on people with severe comorbidity; so metabolic disease, diabetes, obesity, et cetera.
If you look at countries such as in Sub-Saharan Africa, there’s very few people in those categories. Less than one percent of the 1.3 billion people there are over 70. Half of people in Sub-Saharan Africa are 19 years or younger, so what we could class as children in the West. So they were very low risk of this virus, but yet we were doing the same thing. We were saying they should all close down, and we know in these countries, closing borders, forcing unemployment, closing markets are making health access, clinic access difficult, has huge implications. It’s extremely harmful as is harming economies.
So we were doing this, but almost not talking about it from a public health point of view. It’s not really a sane response. So like many people, but unfortunately I think not enough, I got very concerned over the direction.
Mr. Jekielek: So there’s these two elements that are going on here and simultaneously being looked at, right? There’s this pandemic treaty, there’s this zero draft paper that was written up after some meetings earlier this month that’s looking to build that treaty in the coming year. At the same time, there’s these international health regulations that are being updated. I believe it’s the 2005 regulations. If you could just break down for me what is happening with these regulations, then we’ll go into the implications.
Dr. Bell: Yes, yes, there’s a bit of misunderstanding about this. So the International Health Regulations were brought in in 2005 stimulated a bit by the SARS outbreak in 2003, which shook people up because it was a bad virus. It didn’t kill many people, a few thousand people max, but it made a lot of noise and got people unfortunately excited about pandemics.
I saw that in my colleagues in public health because a lot of public health isn’t eye-catching and strengthening access to clinics, training health workers, does not get on the BBC, but being the team that goes in and fights an outbreak or that vaccinates kids and saves this number from this disease, does get on the BBC and is exciting, and we are all human. I think what we’ve been seeing is partly human response in the global health community. The public health community to this is much more exciting than the usual stuff and so they want to do it.
So the International Health Regulations were brought in 2005 that have been amended a couple times since. They already give quite strong powers. They have four site international law, and they give quite strong powers potentially to the director general of the WHO to declare pandemics and strongly recommend, which is very persuasive under this agreement, the closure of borders and the transfer of information, et cetera, about what’s going on and gives the WHO some powers in theory to manage pandemics.
The way that international law has power varies by country-by-country. So there is already international law in place in this area. The IHR amendments, which are being put to the World Health assembly next week, the governing body of the WHO, strengthen the existing IHR in a number of ways. These include taking away the necessity of consulting with a country where the outbreak is taking place for the DG [Director-General]. They give regional directors, and there’s six of them in the different WHO regions, the power to declare these outbreaks and health emergencies themselves, and it puts in place, which in a way is most worrying to me, a mechanism called a periodic review mechanism. It appears to be modeled on what the human rights council does in the UN.
So it will review countries every year, review their pandemic preparedness, see if they’re complying with the IHR [and] recommend/tell them to improve things that aren’t up to scratch. So this will include inspections and just starting to build a bureaucracy around the existence of pandemics. I think this is more dangerous than the health regulations themselves. The health regulations can be overridden in most countries by international law. It’s very hard for a small country, it’s easy for a big country because they’re more powerful, but building a pandemic bureaucracy or pandemic industry like this, which is building on what’s already been done over the last decade, is dangerous because it is going to shift resources to this area. So in a way, that is detrimental to overall health.
So the treaty, as it’s called, is a parallel mechanism of the WHO. This will also have force. It’s intended under international law, it’s very similar to IHR amendments, but will go further, but it is giving far more power to the WHO. It will strengthen the ability further of the director-general to direct this. It mentioned in its text issues such as misinformation, disinformation, et cetera. So it sounds as if it will look at having some powers over censorship and control of information, which again is extremely difficult if you’ve got a bureaucracy whose existence is dependent on pandemics because they’ll have a very vested interest in finding outbreaks, declaring them potential pandemics, and then responding. It’s the way that they all survive.
Dr. Bell: So the zero draft that is going also to the World Health Assembly this week is an initial working document towards this pandemic treaty, which it’s intended will be discussed and agreed next year in the WHO, in the World Health Assembly, and would then come into force when countries ratify, et cetera. It’ll take two-thirds of the countries to agree to that, the IHR amendments, say, 50 percent because it’s just amending what is already in international law.
Mr. Jekielek: So I wanted to actually talk about something that I got recently from Congressman Chris Smith. He offered commentary on the U.S. amendments, what he calls the Biden amendments that are being proposed to the work that is being done here. He said, “The alarming amendments offered by the Biden administration to the WHO’s international health regulations would grant new unilateral authority to Director General Tedros to declare a public health crisis in the United States or other sovereign nations, without any consultation with the U.S. or other WHO member.
Specifically, the Biden amendment would strike the current regulation that requires the WHO to “consult with an attempt to obtain verification from the state party in whose territory the event is allegedly occurring in,” and in seeding the United States’ ability to declare and respond to an infectious disease outbreak within the United States dependent on the judgment of a “corrupt and complicit UN bureaucracy.” Of course, he flags, this is something he’s been talking about for decades, the potential CCP, Chinese Communist Party malign influence. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Bell: The wording is something like there should be an attempt at consultation, but if the country says that this is their business, go away, the WHO is now empowered to ignore that. This has very big implications. Closing borders in a lot of countries kills people. It interrupts supply lines. It destroys a tourist industry on which a lot of people and a lot of countries are dependent.
We don’t realize in the West, but in low middle income countries, these issues, people’s livelihoods are dependent on this. It has huge implications for trade and economies, and we are giving the power to a person and an emergency committee, which the DG consults with, which is being set up under the IHR amendment, but he is not required to go with that committee’s finding. He can override that committee and still declare a public health emergency if he or she thinks they should.
The same power is given to these six regional directors, which is new. So you can see the potential where countries can influence these individuals and the organization to target another country or indeed private interests can influence these people. It’s important for people to understand that WHO is different now than it was when it was set up 70 years ago. It was set up funded by countries almost exclusively with core funding. They gave money, allocated money, and the WHO decided how best to spend that.
Now, most of the funding is directed funding, which means is given to the WHO to do this task or that activity. So the donor decides where the money will be spent and can be very directive. I’ve seen it to the point of these are the people who should be involved in the work, and this is where it will be done, et cetera. This is a timeline.
The other big change is there’s a very large increase in private funding and corporate funding for the WHO. So rather than being just responsible to the funders who represent people, their countries, it is now also responsible to the funders who are private individuals or corporations such as big pharma who had large direct and indirect funders of WHO.
There are obvious implications there if this is an organization, which is deciding essentially the issues that have a huge impact on the health and freedom of people and populations that there are private corporate interests whose job is to maximize return for their shareholders, who can through funding direct the direction of the WHO and clearly have an influence on its decisions.
Mr. Jekielek: Now, that’s absolutely fascinating, and I want to talk more about that because, obviously, there’s many, many implications of this shift, and having worked in a Gates-funded lab, you’ve probably seen some of these implications actually in play. Before I go there, I want to talk again and go back to the lockdowns that you were talking about earlier, right? A number of commentators, and this is also my read, are seeing this as a codification of the lockdown policies that were instituted in the past despite their incredible failure, frankly, and just this whole thing just seems like a very, very bizarre thing. Is that how you see it?
Dr. Bell: It is bizarre, but it’s not bizarre, depending on your point of view. From a public health point of view, it is bizarre. So pandemics come very infrequently. The WHO lists, before COVID there was four pandemics in 120 years. The big one was the Spanish flu, 1918 to 1919, killed 20 to 50 million people, but probably the majority of those have thought to have died from secondary pneumonia because we didn’t have antibiotics, yeah? Before that, the big pandemics, the Black Death, et cetera. There were mostly bacteria such as bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, which are now not a big problem because we have antibiotics, which despite resistances on, still work very well.
After the Spanish flu, we had the influenza outbreak. It was called the Asian flu in ’57 to ’58. There was another, ’68 to ’69, the Hong Kong flu. That’s when Woodstock went ahead. I mean, life went on normally during these. About a million people are thought to have died from influenza in each in a much smaller world population. Then we had, WHO listed as a pandemic, the swine flu outbreak. They declared it a pandemic, but between 120 and 240,000 people were thought to have died. That’s less than dying normally from the flu each year.
So pandemics, apart from the pre-antibiotic era have had very low mortalities. We can get to COVID in a moment, and they’re very infrequently, occurred once a generation. So there is not a rush to change things now in terms of pandemics, unless people think that there’s another pandemic. Naturally, it doesn’t make sense that there’s going to be another pandemic very soon. So let’s assume that there’s only natural forces here and that we can put concerns of bioterrorism, et cetera aside. It’s a different issue.
So they’re a rare event, and the lockdowns, as I said, they’re a new way of doing things. We know that they’re very harmful. So 2019, so just before COVID, late 2019, the WHO released its pandemic influenza guidelines, where they said only in extreme conditions do you have prolonged border closes, workplace closes, et cetera. They strongly recommend against them because they pointed out that they can do more harm than good.
We know that the numbers are pretty shocking for what has been done from these lockdowns. So we know just about 140 million people or more have been added to people on the edge of starvation, and that’s likely to get worse. We’ve damaged supply lines and malaria has gone up. So malaria last 2020, an extra 60,000-70,000 children died of malaria compared to the previous year, and much of this will be because they couldn’t get to clinics when they had a fever.
TB, HIV, we know will be going up. The vaccine programs for preventable childhood diseases have been severely harmed in a lot of countries. So we expect more children [will] die from that. Schools have been closed, which has a huge impact on the future in terms of ability for people to get out of poverty and get their countries out of poverty.
UNICEF, I think, estimates an extra 10 million girls will be forced into child marriage because of closure of schools and poverty. UNICEF also, they calculated in 2020 alone in South Asia, so India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, that area, six countries, about 228,000 children, infants, are thought to have died from lockdowns alone and an extra 400,000 teenage pregnancies. So that’s just in South Asia. That’s just in 2020 alone from lockdowns.
So extrapolate that across the world. It’s hard to see that we have not caused far more mortality from the lockdowns than from COVID itself. Even the world banks or the global financing facility is harmed. The world bank has estimated among women and children that probably too have died from lockdown for everyone that died of COVID.
So we know we’ve done this huge harm. To their credit, UNICEF have documented this very well. Oxfam, even WHO with malaria, et cetera, we’re documenting these harms. Yet, we are also in parallel pushing very rapidly these IHR amendments and this treaty as it’s called, which will make lockdowns, essentially it seems, a permanent feature of pandemic responses.
So without any detailed analysis, did this really help versus harm? So we’ve done huge harm, and we’ve done it in just one or two years. If we keep doing this, this will be cumulative. Poverty is cumulative. Interrupting supply lines is cumulative harm. So we can expect both in terms of health, in terms of women’s rights, basic human rights, education, GDP of countries, which has a big impact on health, particularly in low income countries, we can expect that we will compound this every time this happens.
We’re building out a bureaucracy whose existence will be dependent on surveilling to try to find various outbreaks, doing modeling, which could suggest, and if you look at the modeling used in COVID, will suggest there’ll be exponential growth, which is not really biologically plausible, and then that will be used to institute pandemics to close borders, to do these things because without this, this bureaucracy, they’re touting three to 10 billion dollars a year to fund this bureaucracy and this response.
You can’t justify that money unless you’re doing something. So they’ll need to be declaring outbreaks and instituting these measures. So we are putting in place extremely harmful measure without having done any serious analysis on whether it’s even a good idea, was it a bad mistake or was it overall benefit the last time we did it, which is the previous two years, and we’re doing it to something which is not an urgent matter in historic terms, and certainly not compared to disease burden from other diseases, even through COVID. More people die of other infectious diseases. More people die of metabolic diseases, cancer, and they die much younger on average than COVID.
Mr. Jekielek: So let me see if I’m hearing you correctly here, right? You said it’s bizarre, but it’s not bizarre, right? Essentially, I think you’re saying that this is being codified possibly simply to justify the existence of this new bureaucracy funded to the tune of multiple billions a year.
Dr. Bell: So it makes sense to have surveillance for outbreaks, clearly, yeah? It makes sense to have some sort of response. The response that has happened for COVID is unusual in public health. It’s very vertical. It’s very pharmaceutically oriented. It included measures, which we know reduce the ability to fight viral infections, so confined people to their homes, kept them out of the sun.
We had seen an increase in obesity in children and adults in the U.S. because gyms are closed. There’s less exercise. People can’t go walking, et cetera. So that all makes us more susceptible. COVID is very much a disease of, it’s a metabolic disease as much as a viral disease if you … A large proportion of the people who died from COVID have severe metabolic disease, and that is why their immune system was unable to cope with this virus. But a lot of people have made a lot of money out of this, and you don’t make money by getting people fit or not much. You make a lot of money by selling vaccines.
So the people who made that money are very influential as we know in pushing these measures. So you can say that that’s related. You can say it’s coincidental, but people who are outspoken in doing away with orthodox public health and saying, “We should lockdown. We should put people out of workplaces. We should close gyms. We should stop travel,” and they’ve generally kept traveling noticeably, but they’ve also made tens of billions of dollars from this unusual response, and they are also significant in people and corporations, and they are also significant in funding the WHO and in pushing the same agenda of building this bureaucracy to fight pandemic.
So we’ve seen the GERM initiative, for instance, which is a private recommendation from Bill Gates to do essentially the same thing as is being recommended in the WHO proposed treaty. There are also other parallel mechanisms by the world bank and the IMF, et cetera, which are also allocating money towards either the same or parallel bureaucracy. Normally, and in the past, WHO was very strict on conflict of interest. Normally, if someone is making lots and lots of money from a particular public health measure, you are not saying that they’re causing it, but you would exclude them from any involvement in decisions.
It’s just common sense. It’s the way that you manage society to manage conflict of interest and so on because we’re all human, but we are seeing the opposite. We’re seeing large donors who have no specific background in public health. We’re seeing the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies being in the mainstream media as the gurus of public health without any clear statements along with that this person or this company has just made tens of billions of dollars from exactly what they’re advocating. So yeah.
So if you look at this from a business point of view, it’s not mad, it’s a very sensible business strategy. If you have essentially an amoral attitude to business, if you are trying to maximize returns to your shareholders, and you’re running a pharmaceutical, then you don’t concentrate on getting people physically well so that they can have natural resistance to disease. You concentrate on selling the product for the disease that they have, and the more people have a disease, the more you sell that product. That’s how a business makes more money.
So in public health, it’s absolutely vital to exclude any possibility of that influencing population health. For the last two years, we’ve seen quite the opposite in the media and, unfortunately, I think in the international health institutions and their leaders who are really, clearly working closely with these groups rather than keeping them at arm’s length.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, let’s dive into how this funding structure has changed over past years. This is actually quite interesting. For example, it’s pretty obvious that Bill Gates has a lot of influence at the WHO. I think his foundations are the number two funder of the organization. Of course, not all, of course. You were talking about pharmaceutical companies funding all sorts of directed projects.
So there’s two things I want to discuss. One is how that landscape has really changed over the past years and how we arrived at this situation that you just described over the last two years. That’s one piece. Then the second piece is, basically, what are the implications of these types of structures where very, very directed funding is going for very directed work that I suppose might be in the direct interest of the funder, right?
Dr. Bell: If you go back 25 years, there was the World Health Organization and then some organizations like UNICEF, et cetera, that were involved in global health, public health. It was called tropical health or international health then, and not many others. So there were schools that concentrated on this, but they were low-funded. Disease programs in countries had very low funding. Around the year 2000, a lot of money started to become available initially from countries. The global fund for AIDS, TB, and malaria was instituted to fight those three diseases.
The idea was that it would be a conduit for money to the countries. It’s now grown into quite a big bureaucracy, but it’s become the main funder internationally of HIV, TB, and malaria with the exception of HIV where PEPFAR and the U.S. government has a very big separate fund, and it puts out about three or four billion dollars a year for these diseases, and that’s mostly country money, but it’s also private money.
It had a big impact. It was good at the time, and it still does a lot of useful things because giving a lot of money for these diseases will help buy basic drugs for malaria, et cetera, diagnostics, drugs for HIV, et cetera. It’s keeping a lot of people alive who would otherwise die. So this influx money was in many ways a very good thing for a lot of people, but it brought with it the idea of particularly public-private partnerships, where the private sector would partner with the public sector because the public sector didn’t have much money and the private sector did. So it seems, again, a good thing. You’re bringing more money to the problem. You’re bringing private sector expertise, et cetera, on running programs.
The problem is that along with that, clearly, the private sector has to have other agendas because they have shareholders that they have to please. So inevitably, you start shifting in a certain direction, and that is not going to be towards the classics or the WHO horizontal idea of health where communities are empowered to manage their own health and decide their own priorities. It’s going to be towards stuff that you can make money from, so particularly vertical approaches and commodity-based.
So then other organizations started cropping up. So Gavi, which concentrates on vaccination and getting vaccines out; mostly vaccines for vaccine-preventable diseases for children. So again, in essence, a good thing. Unitaid was set up, which is all these, and Gavi and Unitaid have both private and country money again.
The WHO, officially, the World Health Assembly, it’s just country, so that in theory is the governance of WHO. Gavi and Unitaid, and CEPI, which is a newer one, which is just concentrated on pandemics and started a few years ago, they also have private influence on the board, and these organizations also have far lacks of rules in terms of accepting private money and corporate money. So they’re quite significantly financed from the private sector, and they also give money to WHO so they could be a conduit for private sector money to WHO.
So with this more money, which can be a good thing, we have this increasing, particularly Western corporate influence on global health by companies and by individuals who have investments in companies who will make a lot more profit if they sell more commodities to these countries. So you immediately have this conflict of interest arising, and that doesn’t appear to have been managed very well. Certainly, I think in COVID-19 we’re seeing apparently where that is led. So the response now is not that surprising given what has happened and the way that health has changed and the significant increase of private sector and corporate influence over the direction of global policy.
Mr. Jekielek: So the question that’s just coming to my mind, again, I have to think about this lockdown policy that is so different from everything that was acceptable in 2019 as you outlined earlier, right? It wasn’t just the U.S. that did this. It wasn’t just China that did this. It was, frankly, most countries. There’s a few very stark outliers in States, in the U.S., and so forth, but almost everybody did this. So is this, the power to institute, to influence this policy, is that already sitting at the WHO or somewhere else or where is that?
Dr. Bell: So the power to recommend it is there. Where the countries bow that power varies. So we saw countries this time such as Sweden, Tanzania, a few others that did not lockdown, did not institute masking policies, et cetera, and they appear to have had the same COVID mortality as other countries, and it appears that they’re having less collateral damage, which isn’t surprising. We don’t expect these policies to really help within their alliance respiratory virus overall. They may slow it down slightly.
If you’re locking down countries like India or parts of Africa or other fairly dense population centers, you’re not stopping people from interacting with each other. People live in very high density situations. They need to go out every day to get food. They don’t have refrigerators. They need to go to communal toilets, whatever. They’re going to keep interacting and they have to go to markets, but all you’re doing is stopping them from getting any income.
So instead of being at risk of the virus on an income, they’re at risk of the virus with no income. So we don’t expect that really to help. In Western countries, again, we saw the policies are very strange on things like curfews, I mean, as if the virus only spreads after 10:00 PM. So if you stop people from going out at 10:00 PM, you’ll stop the spread. It’s just that. Really, these are the ludicrous things to do from a public health point of view.
We knew very early on that it was concentrated particularly on old people and people who were already sick with metabolic disease. So we could have concentrated on them, and a lot of people advocated for that, but the idea of locking down children and working age adults who are fit and well and are intrinsically very low risk from this virus and thereby putting them at all these other public health risks, it is not an irrational response.
Mr. Jekielek: So yet what you’re describing as an irrational response ostensibly and with the data to support that it isn’t a good response widely available now is essentially being codified as a way to deal with pandemics going forward with a massive bureaucracy. People are describing this as a power grab. Never let a good crisis go to waste is another euphemism that I hear often. So everything you’re telling me right now, I keep coming back to this, what is going on, right? Is this what’s going on?
Dr. Bell: Yes, and it’s hard for me to see the WHO, in a way, running a power grid. The WHO is influenced by the countries, which comprise its assembly, is influenced by the private donors and the corporate donors who funded a lot of its programs. So it responds to those who direct it. So it certainly is pushing a very new way of managing health and of managing decision making in health, particularly in outbreaks that is clearly to the advantage of these donors of WHO. That is also potentially because of the harm it seems to be doing to economies and democracy. It’s potentially to the advantage of certain countries within WHO as well.
The world is a diverse place. Not all countries agree with each other. So it would be strange if countries weren’t taking advantage of this whole situation to further their strategic interests over the interest of other countries.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the concerns a number of commentators have about this pandemic treaty and this upgrade to the regulations is a loss of sovereignty. What do you think?
Dr. Bell: So it depends on the country, but it has to be ratified to come into force, but if WHO can override countries and recommend border closures, et cetera, irrespective of the country’s intent, then it does take away, in effect, it’s taking away sovereignty. It can isolate a country and cause huge economic harm against that country’s wishes. So it can be used as an instrument to target countries, to target certain regions, and it is extremely difficult for small countries to oppose these international laws because then other countries who back then can introduce sanctions or there can be monitor instruments from the IMF and World Bank that are withheld, et cetera. So there are a lot of ways that even though it doesn’t directly change sovereignty, in effect it does. It takes away the ability of the people of that country to make their own decisions.
Mr. Jekielek: Again, not to beat a dead horse here, but for countries that do have huge influence of the WHO or private institutions that have huge influence over the WHO, that seems to be giving them a lot of power to dictate effectively policy of other countries.
Dr. Bell: Absolutely. Yes. If we build this bureaucracy, a lot of the funding will be directly or indirectly from these private interests. We will have hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in these organizations that depend on pleasing a donor to keep their job and keep the job of those around them, keep their pension fund, keep their health benefits, et cetera. So there is a big incentive structure in these organizations to please the donor. People for good reasons want to keep their team funded, keep their coworkers in a job, but the effect of that is that you end up giving very strong influence to these interests, these funders.
So if they need a very low threshold for declaring a public health emergency and having teams go and investigate in these countries, then they will do that. If you surveil with PCR tests or whatever for viruses, you’ll find them. The definition of a pandemic, importantly, is if the WHO doesn’t include severity. It’s a very loose definition. It’s not clearly defined within the WHO, but it is essentially a widespread pathogen, a virus [or a] bacteria. It doesn’t have to kill people. It doesn’t have to be severe. It has to be widespread. The rhinovirus, lots of viruses are widespread. New viruses, a respiratory virus will always become widespread.
In these regulations, the international health regulation amendments and in the draft ideas for the pandemic treaty, you don’t have to have a pandemic. You have to have a threat for a pandemic. The treaty’s zero draft envisions private sector involvement in this, in data gathering, in modeling, predictive modeling as we saw last time, COVID, and in the response.
So it doesn’t have to be a severe pandemic or a severe outbreak, a severe disease. It doesn’t even have to break out much. It just has to be something they notice that is new, that is a threat. So yeah, it’s something that can be used almost perpetually to institute local, regional or global lockdowns and interruption of trade and all that goes with it and the harms that accrue from those.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and I understand that these organizations aren’t just funding these international organizations. They’re funding related organizations.
Dr. Bell: Well, they are. We have the same predominant funders now funding the training colleges. So there’s been a proliferation of global health schools or global health colleges, they’re called, within universities, particularly in North America, also in Europe, and they receive partial or very significant funding from the same sources, private sources, and they’re for very clearly specified purposes.
So this is training the people who work in these organizations. They’re funding the research for a lot of these diseases now from the modeling group. So in COVID, there is a very significant impact of modeling, which turned out to be well-off mark from Imperial College in London and from IHME at the University of Washington in the U.S.. They’re both funded very heavily from the same source.
So in the zero draft of the treaty, the WHO treaty that’s being proposed, there is a specific mention of the inclusion of private research, private data gathering, private predictive modeling, so non-government, within the program that is being proposed that will assess whether a pandemic should have a response or an outbreak should have a response and, therefore, whether pharmaceutical companies, for instance, will make lots of money or not.
So yes, these conflicts of interests aren’t just at the WHO level. The whole system has gone this way, and it may be for good intent. People want to spend their money on something that is useful, but in the end, it means that one person or one very small group of individuals is extremely influential. They have a different background than most other people. Their priorities are different. They have other interests that they’re protecting. These people, these corporations, et cetera, are doing what the colonial companies of Britain and Holland and so on did in the past.
So it’s very much a form of colonialism. They’re really controlling the lives of populations in other countries to quite a large extent by owning this whole process from top to bottom, that you are making decisions that you think are best and that your funder thinks are best, but not necessarily that the people that are going to suffer the consequences think the best.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, what you’re describing, of course, is rife with potential conflicts of interest and also creates this opportunity for a group think, even among a small group of people. If those people are experiencing groupthink, suddenly that can get implemented at a global scale it would seem.
Dr. Bell: Very much so, yes. We’ve seen that in all aspects of the last two years where it’s extremely difficult for professionals to step out of line. So it is groupthink, but with the hammer in the background as well that you could lose your job if you don’t comply.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so maybe I want to finish up with just your motivation because what you’re doing, what you’re talking about here in this interview is very, very different from what a lot of people in your field, in these international organizations or global funds or so forth are actually doing and saying. So what is it that is making you do this a little bit differently or a lot differently?
Dr. Bell: Well, firstly, I’m not alone. I’m part of an organization, organization PANDA, which is trying to promote really open discourse and honest debate and evidence in science and public health. There are other organizations trying to address this as well. Public health is about costs and benefits. You can’t be a public health physician without weighing these up for a new intervention and figuring out what’s the best way to address the population’s needs. If you are actively doing harm, it’s not really an excuse to say that you’re following orders.
So there are people in these organizations who are clearly trying to put out data on the harm that’s being done. UNICEF and others have put out very useful information on this that’s really important but seems to be ignored. The same organization, which is dedicated to vaccinating children, is now the lead implementer for COVAX, which is COVID-19 vaccination in low income countries.
So we know from a recent study, which included WHO and CDC personnel, that almost everyone in Africa is now immune to COVID. They were immune back in … There was over 70 percent estimated back in September 2021, that was before Omicron. So we’re going to assume everyone’s immune. We know that natural immunity is as good or better than COVID vaccination, but we have UNICEF at the same time leading this push to vaccinate all these already million people at a cost that they’re talking about 35 billion dollars globally, and to give one booster, the cost would then go up to about 61 billion.
So you’re talking about 20 times or 15 times what we spend every year on malaria, and this is just for a vaccine which doesn’t stop transmission. So yeah, this is insane. It doesn’t make sense. So it’s hard to go along with, because you can’t go away with something which is not just insane, but is doing a lot of specific harm to people. It doesn’t fit with what public health is supposed to be. Rational thought has gone out the window here.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Dr. David Bell, any final, quick thoughts as we finish?
Dr. Bell: I think it’s really important that people educate themselves quickly and that they understand the history of pandemics, they understand the real risk and the relatively low risk compared to other diseases, and that they pressure parliaments because it’s parliament where this will stop or Congress in this country, et cetera.
They need to get their local members to ask questions and to demand rational debate around these issues of why are we in such a rush, why are we not looking at the costs as well as the benefits, and just questioning the whole conflict of interest that has grown around this area so that we need to step back and we need our government to insist that everyone steps back, takes a deep breath, and then restructures global health free of conflicts of interest, et cetera, so that we can make rational decisions at a population base and more profit base.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Dr. David Bell, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Dr. Bell: Thanks, Jan. It was a pleasure.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you all for joining Dr. Bell and me for this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host Jan Jekielek.
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This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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