Written for PANDA by Karen Harradine, edited by Chris Waldburger
In Part One of this three part series, Professor Salim Karim was introduced as the leading scientific mind behind the lockdown policies embraced by the South African government.
As a scientist with an impeccable international reputation, renowned for his Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Karim was well-placed to guide and legitimise the South African implementation of a radical and novel global strategy predicated on ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’. Indeed, his leadership of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) would make him something of a South African Fauci or Vallance.
The global mass adoption of a novel pandemic policy was less the result of new discoveries in virology or epidemiology, and rather a function of the web of personalities who guided and led public health as they participated in and supported each other’s institutions. These personalities certainly have not offered any evidence that their world-wide collaboration was based upon objective science, and the results of their policies, both in terms of limiting transmission or providing broad public health benefits, have failed.
The often hidden relationships between these players tends to suggest a multiplicity of scientists independently reaching the same conclusions and recommendations. For the average layperson, this creates the illusion that ‘the experts cannot all be wrong’ when, in fact, these experts are really one conglomerate.
Indeed, even the mainstream media, who have long supported the global Covid-19 response, are now investigating and propounding the monolithic nature of global public health, with Bill Gates, his foundation, and his money suggested as a controlling interest. Politico and Die Welt have recently demonstrated how four organisations, all funded by Gates, together steered the international Covid-19 framework.
Part One of this series demonstrated how embedded Karim is in this architecture. By analysing his role in the South African response it becomes obvious that through political expediency and an irrational consensus inexplicably embraced by Karim and his global peers, national lockdowns became acceptable policy.
A leading data point used to motivate the South African lockdowns in 2020 was provided by the South African Covid-19 Modelling Consortium (SACMC). In March, the SACMC informed the government that if the country didn’t lock down, up to 351,000 people would die from Covid-19 in the first wave and the health system would be overwhelmed.
Yet again, Karim is at the centre of the apparently independent bodies who made forecasts and recommendations in unison. Notably, one of CAPRISA’s partners, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), coordinated with the Department of Health on the SACMC.
The SACMC model, based on their National Covid-19 Epi Model (NCEM), proved to be overblown and flawed. Instead of the predicted 351,000 deaths, around 20,000 people died in the first wave and the field hospitals built to handle the expected crisis remained unused (it is important to view this statistic in light of research on lockdown deaths described by Jonathan Engler). Instead, schooling and economic activity were brought to a standstill and hundreds of thousands of citizens were arrested for breaking restriction protocols.
Equally, this predictive failure of the models can in no way be attributed to lockdown success. Professor Shabir Madhi, director of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), told Sky News in January 2021 that the original hard lockdown had inadvertently created mass transmission and immunity which actually benefited the country in subsequent ‘waves’.
PANDA criticised the SACMC model and, despite being a fledgling organisation lacking the resources of the SACMC, managed to produce a highly accurate model of South Africa’s hospital needs.
Consequently, PANDA was vilified as being anti-science and was ‘cancelled’. Frustratingly, the SACMC now acknowledges that its modelling projections need to be treated with ‘caution’. Yet at the time, to brook dissent was considered callous and dangerous.
The SACMC is not the only public health institution to suggest that its Covid-19 data might not be accurate. In its weekly death reports, the SAMRC admits the following:
“In the context of the emerging Covid-19 pandemic, it has become essential to track the weekly number of deaths that occur. Deaths recorded on the National Population Register are provided to the SAMRC on a weekly basis. These have been scaled up to estimate the actual number of deaths by accounting for the people who are not on the population register and the under-registration of deaths.”
Whilst this may be statistically justifiable, it demonstrates the fallibility of assessing these models and the need for subsequent correction. Why was the model above criticism at the time of its release?
Once more we find Karim’s presence and influence in these organisations that led our understanding of Covid-19 and the official response.
The SAMRC is connected to CAPRISA in several ways: Karim served as president and CEO there between 2012 and 2014. His wife, Quarraisha Abdool Karim, is currently the Deputy Chair of the SAMRC’s Council. The connection between the two organisations extends to funding: the SAMRC and the government pay CAPRISA to run multiple drug and vaccine trials.
Like almost all scientific institutions that promote Covid-19 restrictions and vaccines, the SAMRC has received funding from vaccine enthusiasts, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Since 2006, the BMGF has granted the SAMRC over $23 million, including $3.7 million committed since June 2021.
It is no wonder that the SAMRC is so heavily involved in promoting vaccines. In February 2021, the SAMRC joined forces with CAPRISA, the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation (Tutu Foundation, itself a $12.7 million grant recipient from the BMGF in August 2021), Janssen and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to run a trial for the latter’s Covid-19 vaccine.
Called the Sisonke Study, this vaccine trial was outsourced to CAPRISA by Professor Glenda Gray, the current president and CEO of the SAMRC. She was granted funding by Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of J&J, and by the BMGF to trial the J&J vaccine.
Gray later collaborated with former Health Minister, Zweli Mkhize, to purchase half a million doses of the J&J vaccine. Glenda Gray’s close ties with Karim are indicated by her decision to grant CAPRISA an award for vaccine performance in an HIV trial (an HIV vaccine remains elusive after forty years of research and trials), and honour Karim with a lifetime achievement award by the SAMRC. In February, South Africa’s Minister of Health, Joe Phaahla, appointed both Gray and Karim to sit on a high profile adjudication panel deciding on Covid-19 vaccinations for children.
When one considers the obvious and often admitted failure of modelling and lockdowns, and the lack of apology or self-reflection on the part of its supporters and implementers, one wonders whether these close professional – and perhaps personal – networks serve (wittingly or unwittingly) to discourage frank questioning, criticism, and the rigorous and impersonal scepticism required for science to remain objective.
When Karim calls for what amounts to punishment of the unvaccinated, how dispassionate is he? The average observer might assume there is other expert knowledge that informs this call. However, that expert knowledge is not a function of science, but of assumptions and notions which carry a momentum of their own as they dominate the thinking of an inwardly focused global and national nexus of scientists who employ each other, award each other and dispense precious research grants to each other.
This should prompt some hard questions. Given the public health conglomerate’s willingness to collaborate with Chinese authorities, was pressure brought to bear to throttle questioning of the Chinese zero-Covid approach? What of masks and the endless sanitisation of surfaces, despite the fallacy of the droplet and fomite theory of transmission and the obvious failure of mask effectiveness.
Karim has the public credibility of an international expert when he endorses these radical edicts from governments the world over, but is he speaking as an expert or as a member of a global group with interests and concerns that are not always founded upon science?
Karim’s bias has been rewarded with high-ranking positions in global advisory bodies and international acknowledgement – he shares the John Maddox Prize 2020 with none other than Anthony Fauci. But his numerous conflicts of interest raise the possibility that the policy positions he pushed South Africa into do not stem from objective, science-based analysis, but are influenced by power and money.