Last October, two Philippine members of the House of Representatives were forced to suspend public consultations on vaping and heated tobacco products, after the local FDA, was forced to admit that it had received a grant from the Union and Bloomberg Initiative.

“The Union co-manages the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program, which awards funds to projects delivering high-impact tobacco control interventions in low- and middle-income countries,” said Rep. Estrellita Suansing during a virtual consultations’ session, which took place on October 8th.

Subsequently last December, over 35 national consumer organizations voiced their concern about the funding. They reiterated the need for an investigation into the matter, after which public health policy experts called for a deeper investigation, to determine whether the action violated Philippine and United States laws.

Are such grants being offered in return for policy amendments?

Moreover, concerns are now being raised as to the extent to which such grants and/or technical assistance are being offered in return for policy amendments. In line with countless health and policy experts, Prof. David Sweanor, advisory committee chair of the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law and Policy in Canada, has recently said that naturally the Bloomberg donation to the Philippines FDA would have influenced the agency’s independent judgment.

“It is essential that regulatory bodies have the trust of the public. Accepting foreign funding from sources with a vested interest in compromising the FDA’s independence can rapidly destroy that trust. In this case, the money ultimately comes from a US entity with an abstinence-only agenda on low-risk alternatives to cigarettes,” said Sweanor.

Governments should not take money from Bloomberg’s foundation

Other experts who share Sweanor’s views include former director of Action on Smoking and Health (UK) Clive Bates, National University of Mexico’s Institute of Nuclear Sciences senior researcher Dr. Roberto A. Sussman, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) consumer policy analyst Michelle Minton and Sydney, Australia’s St. Vincent’s Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service director Dr. Alex Wodak.

“Governments and their agencies should not take money from Bloomberg’s foundation or the worldwide complex of organizations that it funds. The duty of the Philippines FDA is to look after the welfare of Filipinos, not to take instructions from foreign advocacy operations,” said Bates.

Dr. Sussman highlighted that Bloomberg’s influence through funding is endemic in low and middle-income countries, “mostly because health ministries become dependent on these funds due to a lack of government funding.”

“These funds are typically grants and donations. They are not accountable, nor scrutinized and their records tend to lie deep below the radar. I hope the example set in the Philippines could spread to other Asian countries and to Latin America and Africa,” he said.

LMICs should keep away from such grant-for-policy schemes

Executive Coordinator of CAPHRA, Nancy Loucas, shares Sussman’s concerns and has recently highlighted that countries which direly need funds to implement effective public health programs, are particularly vulnerable and often fall prey to grant-for-policy schemes. “LMICs (low to middle inome countries) should keep away from such grant-for-policy schemes which might compromise the rights of the consumers to choose better products for their health.”

Minton, who is also a senior fellow at the CEI, pointed out that this pattern of US “philanthropists” dedicating funds and resources to interfere with the politics and policies of other nations, is more common than one may think. “More disturbing is the fact that they seem only to care about imposing their moral agenda, regardless of the needs and interests of local populations,” she said. The policy analyst added that this is colonialism not philanthropy. “That’s not charity. It is colonialism and a monstrous violation of human rights.”

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