We unequivocally condemn the suggestion by two racist French doctors that a vaccine being developed for COVID-19 should be tested in Africa. Their suggestion is racist, cruel, irresponsible and a throwback to the colonial era when Africans were the guinea pigs for all kinds of medical, social and political experiments.
In the course of a debate on the French TV channel LCI, head of research at the Inserm health research group Camille Locht was talking about a drug trial in Europe and Australia when her talk show partner Jean-Paul Mira interjected. Mira is the head of intensive care at Cochin hospital in Paris. He said, “If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?” He then added, “A bit like as it is done elsewhere for some studies on AIDS. In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.”
Mira had earlier said the vaccine study may not work on healthcare workers in Europe and Australia because they have personal protective equipment. Dr Locht then said, “You are right. We are in the process of thinking about a study in parallel in Africa.” In other words, he is right that testing a COVID-19 vaccine in Africa is as good as testing HIV vaccine on prostitutes because they have no protection. Africans are worse than guinea pigs, as far as these racist doctors are concerned.
No wonder that legendary Ivorien footballer Didier Drogba said, “I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racist words. Do not take African people as human guinea pigs!” Legendary Cameroonian footballer Samuel Eto’o called the doctors “murderers” while French journalist Fabrice Wuimo said the remarks were “an uninhibited mix of racism, sexism and dehumanization.”
Although Inserm later said its video was “the subject of erroneous interpretations” and Dr Mira apologised for his comments, African leaders and the African Union must rise as one and insist that no such trials should take place anywhere in Africa. For one, the virus first appeared in China, not Africa. As at yesterday, world-wide confirmed COVID-19 cases stood at 1,139,246 with 61,149 deaths. A country by country breakdown by the World Health Organisation [WHO] shows that the six top countries by number of infections are USA [277,613], Spain [124,736], Italy [119,827], Germany [92,050], France [82,165] and China [81,639].
According to WHO figures, the worst hit continent is Europe. Eighteen of the 28 worst affected countries are in Europe. On the other hand, WHO described Africa as the least infected continent, so far. We concede that poor testing facilities could mean that the figures are slightly higher here, but not too much. If there is widespread infection and death, as happened with Ebola some years ago, we will know it with or without official figures. Europe, therefore, is the right place to go for clinical trials of any vaccine. If it works well, we will be very glad to accept it for use here.
Besides, the disastrous, illegal 1996 test of a meningitis vaccine in Kano is still fresh in our minds. The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer did a clinical trial of trovafloxacin [Trovan] on 100 kids in Kano during the great meningitis epidemic. It was an illegal trial of an unregistered drug and some of the children who were given the vaccine died while many survivors suffered severe side effects. After protracted litigation in Nigeria and abroad, Pfizer paid $75 million in an out of court settlement.
That case is still fresh in our minds. Africans must not be used as guinea pigs again in any new COVID-19 test. The racist French doctors should go elsewhere for their trials.