In a move prompted in part by fears of foreign influence on public policy, India's health ministry has decided to take over funding responsibility for an immunization program backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Reuters reports.
Funded by the Gates Foundation since its creation in 2012, the Immunization Technical Support Unit at the Public Health Foundation of India provides technical and monitoring assistance to the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), which supports the government's extensive immunization program. Starting in March, however, ITSU will be funded by the government, which felt the need to manage the program on its own, senior health ministry official Soumya Swaminathan told Reuters. "There was a perception that an external agency is funding it, so there could be influence," said Swaminathan, who also noted that no instances of inappropriate influence have been found.
Critics of the relationship have raised concerns about the Gates Foundation's association with the program due to apparent conflicts of interest, given that the foundation also backs GAVI, a global vaccine alliance that includes pharmaceutical companies among its partners. According to the Economic Times, all financial ties between NTAGI and the Gates Foundation have been dissolved.
Still, the move is seen by some as part of a broader clampdown on nongovernmental organizations operating in the country by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. Over the last two years, the Modi government has ordered the dismissal of dozens of foreign-funded health experts working on public welfare schemes, canceled the licenses of several NGOs to receive foreign funding, and placed the Ford Foundation on a list of organizations that are not allowed to fund Indian nonprofits without government permission.
A Gates Foundation spokesperson told Reuters that its grant for the ITSU ends this month. "We are in advanced stages of discussion with the ministry," she added, "on the contours of the next phase of technical support."