However, a nation blinded by such unprecedented charity from the Saint of Seattle is now faced with the Big Question: is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's $100 million AIDS initiative plain and simple altruism? On the face of it, the answer is No. Because the links between the foundation and multinational pharmaceutical companies looking to sell their expensive anti-retroviral drugs in India and China—the two countries which the CIA describes as the "next wave" of the global AIDS crisis with 40 million infections—are, well, pretty close.
Consider this. The $24 billion foundation has been investing in Big Pharma for some time now. This became public in May when the foundation filed its investments with the US' Securities and Exchange Commission. The Wall Street Journal, followed by the London-based Guardian, blew the lid off the investments by letting out details: the foundation has invested in multinational pharmaceutical companies like Merck & Co, Pfizer Inc and Johnson and Johnson. The investments were worth $205 million on May 16, 2002. These companies are leading manufacturers of AIDS drugs, related vaccines and diagnostic kits. So by acquiring shares in these companies, the foundation now has a common financial interest and, sceptics may revel in the irony, a seeming conflict of interest. Through its funding of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations, the foundation pays for purchases of vaccines from the same pharma firms in which it owns shares. Merck's chief executive Raymond Gilmartin even sits on the Microsoft board. So, on the one hand, the foundation is pushing—quite rightly—that vaccines and drugs be made available to poor people, while on the other it shares financial interests with companies that strongly advocate the patent regime and sell drugs to poor nations at astronomical prices.