Former US President Barack Obama listens to Dr. Nancy Sullivan (far R) as he tours the vaccine research center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland on December 2, 2014 with National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Tony Fauci (far L) and US Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell (AFP / Mandel Ngan)

Photo shows Obama and Fauci visiting a lab in the US, not China

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

Social media posts shared thousands of times claim a photo shows a 2015 visit by then-US president Barack Obama, infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and philanthropist Melinda Gates to a laboratory in China’s Wuhan, which later became ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic. But the photo was actually taken the previous year at a lab in Maryland, and Gates does not appear in it.

“DR. FAUCI, MELINDA GATES AND BARACK OBAMA AT THE WUHAN LAB IN 2015...!!!!” says text accompanying the photo in a July 14, 2020 Facebook post

The image shows the former president conversing with a woman in a white lab coat in what appears to be a laboratory. Fauci stands in the background with another woman.

Below is a screenshot of a no-longer-available tweet from user @gmcgonigle replying to @JoeBiden: “You mean this Dr Fauci who was with Obama in 2014 in the WuHan lab where they paid the lab 3.7 million for a ‘bat’ project?”

Screenshot of a false Facebook post, taken on July 16, 2020

More examples of the post, which has been circulating since at least July 9, are available on Facebook here, here and here and on Instagram here. Versions of the post were also shared in Spanish here, here and here.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the coronavirus task force, has been increasingly drawn into conflict with President Donald Trump, and is a popular target for disinformation.

Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, leading voices on the push for a vaccine to combat COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have also been the target of multiple conspiracy theories during the crisis.

Image origin

A reverse image search for the photo reveals that it was first published on US National Institutes of Health NIAID’s Flickr account on December 2, 2014. It was also published the same day on NIH director Francis Collins’ blog

Screenshot of an NIH image posted on Flickr, taken July 16, 2020

The photo caption on Flickr reads: “Dr. Nancy Sullivan of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases discussing Ebola research with President Barack Obama as NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell look on,” and is credited to NIH.  

Melinda Gates did not participate in the 2014 visit to NIH, which was related to ebola vaccine trials; instead Sylvia Burwell, secretary of US Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration, is the woman pictured in the background.

Burwell now serves as the president of American University in Washington, DC.

Photo of Sylvia Burwell on October 20, 2016 and of Melinda Gates on January 22, 2019 (AFP/ Yammil Lage / Eric Piermont)

Also present was AFP photographer Mandel Ngan, who documented the encounter.

Photo metadata confirms that the image was taken in Bethesda, Maryland on December 2, 2014.

Left to right: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci, then-US Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, former US President Barack Obama and Dr. Nancy Sullivan at the vaccine research center at the National Institutes of Health on December 2, 2014 in Bethesda, Maryland (AFP / Mandel Ngan)

‘Bat project’

The US government did fund a years-long research project in China run by nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance aimed at helping identify coronaviruses and preventing future outbreaks. The grant was renewed for $3.7 million last year, about 10 percent of which was slated for the Wuhan Institute. 

However, Trump in April called for the termination of the funding in response to conspiracy theories blaming the institute for the pandemic.

AFP has previously fact checked claims that the novel coronavirus is not naturally occurring and that US funding for China coronavirus experiments contributed to the outbreak.

Overall, AFP Fact Check has debunked more than 560 examples of false and misleading information about the novel coronavirus, available here.

 
Ana Prieto
Translated by
CORONAVIRUS