Durban – South African medical scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim has dismissed “fake news” posts that went viral on social media, alleging he had received R944 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as “nonsense”.

Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist who serves on the ministerial committee that advises President Cyril Ramaphosa on the country’s Covid-19 response and heads up the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said he became aware of the posts after one had been sent to him.

The original post was published on Twitter by an account called using the handle @crit_observer, which Twitter has subsequently temporarily restricted claiming there had been “some unusual activity” from the account.

“Maybe @CyrilRamaphosa is following the wrong experts: @ProfAbdoolKarim received min $50 890 548 (R944 million) from Gates (2006-2016, to CAPRISA & MRC) + sits on board of GatesFoundation (for $ ???). Who believes to receive neutrality? Check links!”.

The link connects to another tweet which alleges the funding was supplied for “vaccine strategies and policy decisions”.

The posts collectively received just 42 retweets and 26 likes but appear to have been widely disseminated on other platforms such as WhatApp, prompting former Durban deputy mayor Logie Naidoo to post on Facebook what he said was Abdool Karim’s “official response” to the posts.

The post said: “To people, especially the Muslim community, that are spreading fake news about Prof Karim. This is his direct response: ‘This fake news about me receiving money from Gates is spreading within the Muslim community. It is from a fake news Twitter account that was closed by twitter for spreading other fake news as well. I have served on the Gates Foundation Scientific Advisory Board for about 10 years. I also chair the WHO Scientific Committee on HIV and lots of other committee (sic). Since when is it wrong to advise these bodies? Because I am an adviser to the Gates Foundation, I do not have grant funding from Gates. Please convey the truth to help stop the fake news.’ If you spread fake news and conspiracy theories, please unfriend me, I have no patience for this.”

Abdool Karim confirmed that he had written the above response. “If you go into Twitter you will see the original post has been shut down as a source of multiple fake news stories, not just this one. It has obviously been set up to generate this kind of nonsense,” he said.

“Several people started sending it to me, asking if I knew about the fake news that was going around? I sent a short note to one of them saying please don’t send me this stuff, it’s all nonsense, here’s the facts. I didn’t even think it was worthy of a response,” he said.

“Put simply, I was an adviser to many organisations. I chair the World Health Organization scientific committee on HIV and the UNAids Scientific expert panel,” he said.

Asked whether he, Caprisa or the MRC had in fact received any funding from the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, Abdool Karim said: “Even if I did, what has that got to do with Covid-19? My view is whether I received money or not is irrelevant to Covid-19. It doesn’t impact on my objectivity or my scientific credibility on the issue of Covid-19, in any way. Bill Gates and what he is doing has got nothing to do with what I do with regard to the virus or whether I received money or not.”

When pressed further to confirm whether or not he had received funding, he declined to answer.

“I am not answering the question because I don’t feel I should justify whether I received funding from the foundation or not. That should be irrelevant to my scientific stature and what I say about Covid-19,” he said.

He said there were some people who were opposed to Gates for his criticism of the US President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

“I am not going to fall into that trap. It is irrelevant whether I received money or not,” Abdool Karim said.

The Mercury