African Anti-rights Groups and Anti-Vaxxers Unite in Global Campaign Against WHO
Uganda’s First Lady  Janet Museveni (centre), hosts delegates from the African Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Family Values and Sovereignty, including anti-vaxxers Wahome Ngare (front left) and Shabnam Mohamed (front right).

Right-wing African Members of Parliament (MPs), including some of the continent’s most vociferous anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ lawmakers, united with anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists for the first time at a conference in early May.

Aside from the expected rhetoric against abortion and LGBTQ people, the African Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Family Values and Sovereignty gave a platform to a speaker who claimed that a range of vaccines were unnecessary or designed to reduce African fertility – including the COVID-19, Human Papillomavirus (HPV), malaria and even tetanus vaccines.

Others agitated against the World Health Organization’s (WHO) pandemic agreement currently being negotiated, describing it as a “power grab” aimed at imposing abortion, same-sex marriage and lockdowns on the world.

The anti-vaxx charge was led by Kenyan doctor Wahome Ngare and South African Shabnam Mohamed, who describes herself as a lawyer and journalist.

Ngare is chairperson of the African Sovereignty Coalition and a director of the rightwing Kenya Christian Professionals Forum (KCPF).

Mohamed is a leader of an “Africa chapter” of US presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr’s Children’s Health Defense, one of the key global sources of vaccine misinformation. She is also part of the World Council on Health, an  alliance of anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists and alternative health providers.

Shabnam Mohamed leads the Africa Chapter of Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense.

Ngare told the conference that SARS-CoV2 was produced in a laboratory and the “endgame of the whole COVID fiasco was to vaccinate everybody” for profit; the tetanus vaccine causes infertility and claimed that vaccines against HPV and malaria (one of the biggest killers of African children) were unnecessary.

“Could the COVID pandemic have been created and designed to facilitate the administration of an injection aimed at reducing one population through sterility and death?” asked Ngare, who also claimed that the WHO had been involved for 20 years in developing a tetanus vaccine that prevents pregnancy.

Vaccines have had a massive impact on African lives, cutting infant deaths in half over the past 50 years, according to a recent study. The HPV vaccine offers an opportunity to combat cervical cancer, the most pervasive cancer for women on the continent.

Ngare also called on the African MPs to ensure that their governments reject the proposed amendments to the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR), which he claimed would turn the WHO “from an advisory organisation into a governing body”, a false claim that is also made repeatedly by Kennedy.

The actual aim of the IHR amendments is to ensure there is a clear process for responding to “public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC) to ensure the world is better prepared for the next pandemic.

Shabnam Mohamed (centre) and Wahome Ngare (right).

Disinformation shopping list

The pandemic agreement aims to ensure that the WHO’s 194 member countries are better equipped to prevent, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics, including more equitable access to vaccines and medicines.

Yet Mohamed provided a shopping list of disinformation about the pandemic agreement, which is currently in draft form. She took particular exception to the proposed pathogen access and benefit-sharing (PABS) system.

This aims to set up a global system where countries can share biological and genomic information about pathogens with the potential to cause pandemics, and derive benefits for doing so, such as getting access to medicines and vaccines. Under the current draft, the WHO will get 20% of any health-related pandemic products – including vaccines and medicine – to distribute to countries and groups most in need to avoid vaccine hoarding.

According to Mohammed, this PABS system will encourage “biological weapon research” and “dangerous experimentation”.

She also claimed that “South Africa” has drawn up a Bill to withdraw from the WHO. However, she and a couple of MPs from the  right-wing African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) are behind a “Bill”, which has not been tabled in parliament. 

The ACDP is expressly opposed to COVID-19 vaccines and support for the animal parasite  medicine, Ivermectin, as a COVID treatment in its election manifesto prepared for the country’s national elections on 29 May.

Part of Mohamed’s presentation dealt with the WHO’s pandemic agreement.

‘Kill the gays’ 

Ngare and Mohammed received a warm welcome at the conference, which was addressed by some of the most right-wing politicians on the continent, including Ugandan Cabinet Minister David Bahati, responsible for his country’s 2009 “Kill the Gays” Bill that advocated for the death penalty for same-sex relations in certain situations. Although Uganda’s Constitutional Court nullified that Bill in 2014, the country passed a similar Bill in 2023, which recently survived a court challenge.

Dr Seyoum Teklemariam Antonios, Africa director of the US anti-rights group, Family Watch International, told the conference that the pandemic agreement and “transgender healthcare guidelines” pose serious threats to Africa’s growth and development and requested Uganda’s leaders to prevent its representatives at the upcoming World Health Organisation Assembly (WHA) from signing these treaties. (No transgender healthcare guidelines are on the agenda at the WHA.)

Antonios is well known for his extreme views and close ties with Western conservatives, declaring homosexuality the “pinnacle of immorality”, and claiming that his country,  Ethiopia, “shall be the graveyard for homosexuality”.

Meanwhile, Family Watch International, a US-based organisation designated a “hate group”  by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is one of the most active anti-LGBTQ groups on the continent and at the UN, running annual training sessions for African politicians at its Arizona base.

Uganda’s Minister of Mineral Development Sarah Opendi,  chaired the conference, and attendees including Egyptian MP Amira Saber, Eswatini MP and son of King Mswati, Prince Lindaninkosi Dlamini, and Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Speaker of Gambia’s National Assembly.

Later, a small group of delegates, including Ngare and Mohamed, joined Opendi at the State House to meet with Ugandan First Lady Janet Museveni, who is also Minister of Education and Sport.

Post-pandemic global realignment of conservatives

Anti-science dis- and misinformation has become a global movement. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a disparate range of organisations and individuals, particularly in the US, spread various conspiracies, including that the pandemic was intentionally created as part of a plan by secretive elites to control the world population through lockdowns and quarantines, and that China was also involved in the spread of a “lab-created” virus.

These groups included the far-right conspiracy theory movement QAnon, America’s Frontline Doctors and Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense.

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) found that 12 people were responsible for two-thirds of anti-vaxx information on Facebook and Twitter at the height of the pandemic in 2021. Nine of the “disinformation dozen” derived their livelihoods from the “alternative health” sector.

Top spreader Joseph Mercola “peddles dietary supplements and false cures as alternatives to vaccines”, while Ty and Charlene Bollinger, the third-biggest spreaders of misinformation, are “anti-vax entrepreneurs who run a network of accounts that market books and DVDs about vaccines, cancer and COVID-19”, according to the CCDH. Kennedy was the second biggest misinformation spreader. 

CCDH’s ‘disinformation dozen’

Post-pandemic, these groups and some of their views have found resonance with US right-wing political groups opposed to abortion and LGBTQI rights, as well as the nationalists and anti-China groups.

These seemingly unrelated views have coalesced around opposition to the WHO, particularly the pandemic agreement that is being negotiated at present.

In January, some of the foremost right-wing groups in the US sent a letter to the WHO Executive Board urging it to reject awarding official relations status to the Center for Reproductive Health – and basing their argument on misinformation.

“Giving special status to the Center for Reproductive Rights will further fuel the culture wars undermining the WHO’s mission to tackle health issues. It confirms fears that WHO’s new accord on pandemic preparedness will be used to undermine national laws related to abortion,” claims the letter.

Signatories included the Heritage Foundation, Family Watch International, C-Fam, Family Research Council, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, International Organization for the Family, ACLJ Action and Human Life International.

The pandemic agreement explicitly recognises countries’ sovereignty, noting that the WHO has no power to “direct, order, alter or otherwise prescribe the national and/or domestic laws”.

The US conservatives’ ‘Project 2025’

In April 2023, the Heritage Foundation, a far-right US think-tank, launched Project 2025: The Presidential Transition Project, consisting of policy proposals and a recruitment strategy to ensure thel takeover of all government offices and entities should Donald Trump be re-elected.

The proposals are contained in a 920-page book, and include the demand that vaccines  “tested on aborted fetal cells” should be removed from US supplies and the promotion of  “the unsurpassed effectiveness of modern fertility awareness–based methods (FABMs) of family planning” – a “natural” method to control pregnancy without contraceptives.

An extract from Project 2025’s Mandate for Leadership.

The conservative blueprint mentions the WHO a handful of times – all negatively.

It refers to the “manifest failure and corruption” of the WHO during the pandemic, describing it as “willing to support the suppression of basic human rights, partially because of its close relationship with human rights abusers like the [People’s Republic of China].”

The next US Administration must “return to treating international organizations as vehicles for promoting American interests—or take steps to extract itself from those organizations”, it adds.

This is part of the nationalist rhetoric of rightwing Make America Great Again (MAGA) Republicans, who have little interest in anything outside US borders.

Evidence-based information

Globally, the frenzied dis- and misinformation about the WHO’s pandemic agreement reached a crescendo this month – apparently to coincide with the supposed deadline of the pandemic agreement negotiations.

While much of the tone and messaging of the anti-WHO groups is similar to the pandemic-era anti-vaxxers, the chorus is bigger, louder and much more systematic, and the organisations are more diverse.

But making the WHO a target in the “culture war” has serious implications for global health, as well as solidarity and human rights.

WHO spokesperson Paul Garwood said his organisation is “concerned about the impact of dis- and misinformation of people’s well-being and health choices”.

“We will continue to share clear, evidence-based helpful information to our member states and the broader public at large,” added Garwood.

“The WHO’s leadership in public health, technical expertise, and support in disease prevention have significantly advanced health equity and accessibility, fostering global solidarity during times of crisis,” said Tian Johnson, strategist for the African Alliance, a Pan-African health justice organisation.

“The coordinated campaign to undermine the WHO’s global and African work demands a robust response. We must actively resist, advocate for, and confront the far-right groups seeking to propagate hatred, division, and violence on our continent.

“These overseas groups, who benefit from local support and leadership, thrive on exacerbating discord by vilifying our differences and deflecting attention from their own failures to serve their communities. They understand that a unified Africa, one that embraces our commonalities over divisions, poses a direct challenge to their agenda of white supremacy and colonialism,” added Johnson.

“To counter this threat, we must redirect our focus inward, strengthening our local institutions, rallying behind the WHO’s global and regional efforts, and championing science.”

Look out for Part 2 on May 22: The Global Misinformation Movement Comes to Geneva


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