The suggestion by two French doctors that a potential vaccine against Covid-19 could be tested in Africa has provoked outrage, drawing condemnation from figures as diverse as former footballer Didier Drogba and the Director General of the WHO.
In an interview on the highly respected French news channel LCI – La Chaîne Info – on 2 April, Dr Camille Locht, Research Director, French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) and also the Head of the Centre for Infection and Immunity of Lille, Institut Pasteur de Lille, France, said that his institute was looking at testing a potential vaccine against Covid-19 in Africa.
In this clip from the interview the news anchor can be seen asking the distinguished doctor whether the BCG vaccine – thought to provide immunity given that the young seem to be less impacted by Covid-19 than other age groups in society – should be tested in Africa, as the population will be more heavily exposed to the virus given there are no masks, no sanitiser gel, no ICU facilities, a little bit like experimental HIV testing was done on prostitutes. Dr Locht agrees, saying that they are looking at using Africa once they get approval to test their vaccine.
Chatrooms on Facebook and other social media platforms across Africa went into overdrive.
Didier Drogba condemns ‘racist remarks’
On Twitter, Didier Drogba declared: “It is inconceivable that we continue to accept this. I strongly denounce these serious, racist and contemptuous remarks!
“Help us save lives in Africa and stop the spread of this virus which is destabilising the whole world, instead of considering us as guinea pigs. It is absurd! African leaders have a responsibility to protect people from these heinous plots.”
WHO director: ‘I am appalled’
Speaking at a press conference at WHO Headquarters in Geneva, the organisation’s Director General, Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, said that he was “appalled” at these “racist remarks”.
“Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine,” he said. “We will follow all the protocols for testing any vaccines or therapeutics all over the world using exactly the same rules, to treat human beings the same way, equally. And the hangover from a colonial mentality has to stop. The WHO will not allow this to happen. It was a disgrace, actually, and appalling to hear during the 21st century from scientists that kind of remark and we condemn this with the strongest terms possible, but we assure you that this will not happen in Africa. Proper protocols will be followed.”
Inserm has put out a statement claiming that the quotes in the interview were taken out of context.