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The Rockefeller & Gates Foundation in the Making of the Biomedical Model in Disease Control

In the early part of the twentieth century, a new kind of American philanthropy emerged in China and India, transforming the scale and intensity of interregional connections in shaping public health and medicine. This new movement was part of a global reconfiguration of philanthropy in the light of the First World War. These newly created philanthropic foundations embodied the notions of progressive thinking, as explicitly highlighted in their faith in expert knowledge and their ability to tackle societal issues. Unshackled by the prospects presented by the First World War, this new philanthropic movement, led by the RF, intervened first in Europe and subsequently across the world, with China and India becoming a part of the special commission in the global south. Epitomized by the expanding work of the RF, this new form of philanthropy transported disease control techniques pioneered in the American South to China and India (Amrith 2016).

Historically American Foundations have played prominent roles in filling gaps created by public and private sectors in the United States and globally. With longstanding distrust in governments and commitments to free markets, private philanthropic foundations like Rockefeller and Gates are products of the American polity (Stevenson 2014). American philanthropic intervention in disease control in China and India started with the RFs hookworm campaign from 1909 to the 1920s and expanded to other infectious diseases like Malaria, Yellow Fever, and Tuberculosis. The Rockefeller Foundation, since the early years of its inception, has been very influential in the global development of public health, not only through its grant-making but also by participating in shaping concepts and policies. There has always been an overt focus on technological solutions to social issues. The RF’s interest in commerce, religion, and science embodied the role of non-governmental forces that shaped American relations with China and India over the decades. Although they encountered different geopolitics, culture, and society, the foundations were nonetheless very successful in their pursuit of conceptualizing public health in both countries.

Following its predecessors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), have become an active player in public health since the early 21st century in China and India, engaging in significant public health issues like Tuberculosis, Malaria, and HIV/AIDS. The presence of BMGF has become so prominent in the global health forum that it has become a significant figure in setting health policies. BMGF has also grown to be the leading player in many influential global public-private partnerships in healthcare. Since its inception, BMGF has sought to emulate RF, both in terms of the issues it has chosen to focus on and the strategies it has relied on to bring about change. What Rockefeller started in the 20th century, public health has been taken over by BMGF to a whole new level in terms of funding and influence. Whereas the RF worked in close contact with the national governments and helped shape healthcare policy both within the US and internationally, BMGF is more linked with private sector partnerships. The foundation’s major input in the government is to promote the private sector in delivering healthcare services (Kilby 2021).