The tactics seem to be working. Tobacco company Philip Morris International donated fifty ventilators through its Greek subsidiary, Papastratos, to intensive care units in Greece and received public thanks from the country’s health minister.
In Uganda, the government praised Coca-Cola as a “long-standing partner in health causes” after it donated money and trucks to the health ministry.
And Mozambique’s health minister thanked Cervejas de Moçambique (‘Mozambique Beers’), owned by alcohol company AB InBev, for its donation of hand sanitiser, praising “their sense of sharing, in a gesture of friendship”.
Labram Musah, national co-ordinator of the NCD Alliance in Ghana, cited how beer producer Guinness Ghana breweries had “donated to the ministry of information a huge sum of funding and also a pack of 1,500 Guinness to support frontline workers”.
In addition, the Ghanaian Minister of Energy had a media event to accept a donation to the country’s COVID-19 relief fund from the online gambling company, Betway.
Pierre K. Cooke from the Healthy Caribbean Coalition described “predatory marketing practices towards young people” and “donations from alcohol companies and fast food companies to vulnerable groups, communities and children’’.
Acknowledging that many of the activities they reported on provided “invaluable funding for much-needed interventions by governments, civil society and international organisations”, the authors said that their focus was on “examining how unhealthy commodity industries have sought strategic advantage”.
The NCD Alliance fears that governments might be more reluctant to regulate the companies that have given them financial support during the pandemic. The Scottish government has already reneged on an earlier undertaking to regulate various junk food promotions.
“The merciless impact of COVID-19 on people living with NCDs makes it clear that policy change is more urgent than ever,” said Dain. “To build back better from the pandemic, governments need to regulate these industries more strictly, to protect people against preventable NCDs and make our societies healthier and more resilient to future health threats.”
- The researchers have appealed to the public to contribute to their dataset of examples of harmful industries exploiting the pandemic.
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