Scientists all around the world are racing to develop a cure or vaccine for COVID-19. In a broadcast on French television channel, LCI, two French scientists were deliberating on the possibility of starting COVID-19 vaccine testing in Africa. The two scientists, Camille Locht and Jean-Paul Mira cited the shortage of medical supplies as the reason for their choice. Mira, the head of the intensive care department at Cochin Hospital in Paris said,
“It may be provocative. Should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment or intensive care? A little bit like it’s been done for certain AIDS studies, where among prostitutes, we try things, because we know that they are highly exposed and don’t protect themselves?”
Locht, a research director at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) thought it was a good idea. Consequently, he compared the proposed COVID-19 vaccine to BCG, a vaccine widely administered to children in Africa for protection against tuberculosis. There are speculations that the vaccine also protects people from respiratory infections. Responding to the idea raised by Mira, he said,
“You are right. We are actually thinking of a parallel study in Africa to use with the same kind of approach with BCG placebos. We will, in fact, think seriously about it.”
Prominent Africans call COVID-19 vaccine test proposal an act of racism
Inasmuch as the scientists seemed serious with the idea, it didn’t go down well with most Africans. In fact, a lot of Africans saw it as an act of racism. Consequently, the footage which appeared online on April 1, 2020, sparked the hashtag #AfricansAreNotLabRats. Top football legends including Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba and Senegal’s Ba could not hold back their disgust.
It is totally inconceivable we keep on cautioning this.
Africa isn’t a testing lab.
I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racists words.
Helps us save Africa with the current ongoing Covid 19 and flatten the curve. pic.twitter.com/41GIpXaIYv
— Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) April 2, 2020
Bienvenue en occident , la où le blanc se croit tellement supérieur que racisme et débilité deviennent banalité. TIME TO RISE ✊🏿 pic.twitter.com/R08R7K9QAw
— Demba Ba (@dembabafoot) April 2, 2020
INSERM which is one of the leading research institutes in the world issued an official statement saying the proposed COVID-19 vaccine test was ‘wrongly interpreted’. The official statement was followed with the hashtag #FakeNews. The official statement read,
“A distorted video, taken from an interview on LCI with one of our researchers about a study on the potential use of the BCG vaccine against COVID-19, is now the subject of erroneous interpretation. Africa shouldn’t be forgotten or excluded from this research because the pandemic is global.”
As of the time of writing this post, Africa has less than 10,000 COVID-19 cases and less than 500 deaths. However, there are over 109,000 cases in France with no fewer than 10,000 deaths. Thus, many are of the opinion that the French need the vaccine more than Africans.
Apology a little too late
Mira later apologized for his statement calling it ‘clumsily expressed’. Africa is currently the continent with the least cases. However, this may be a case of false hope considering that the continent is not doing enough testing. Mira thinks the continent may be heading towards a more serious danger. In an interview with Huffington Post, Mira tried to clarify his intentions on the COVID-19 vaccine row. He said,
“Africa could be even more exposed to serious forms of harm because there will be so few masks and little confinement because of societal structure. It seemed interesting to me that in addition to France and Australia, an African country could participate in this study which I had never heard of before hearing about it on the show.”
WHO’s stand on COVID-19 vaccine testing
The World Health Organization’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Africa will not be a testing ground for COVID-19 vaccine. During a WHO coronavirus briefing, Dr. Tedros was asked what he thinks about the comment by the French scientists. Visibly angry, the WHO chief said,
“Africa can’t and won’t be a testing ground for any vaccine. It was a disgrace, appalling, to hear during the 21st Century, to hear from scientists, that kind of remark. We condemn this in the strongest terms possible, and we assure you that this will not happen.”
Update on important coronavirus-related events in Africa
- Popular Nigerian actress, Funke Akindele was fined $260 (100,000 naira) for breaking social gathering rules. Furthermore, the actress and her husband will be doing 14-days community service. The actress held a birthday party in her Lagos mansion. The guests at the party were more than the limit set by the government.
- Police in Ivory Coast clashed with protesters on Monday, April 6, 2020, at a coronavirus testing center. The protesters were afraid that people using the facility will spread the epidemic in the district. Therefore, they began dismantling the half-built testing center.
- With schools still on lockdown, officials in Burkina Faso are encouraging children to watch TV. The country is broadcasting school lessons to engage children while they are at home.
- Zimbabwe is warning citizens against buying or selling COVID-19 self-test kits. The country’s Health Minister, Obadiah Moyo insists that all kits need evaluation and approval by local authority first. Private companies and some pharmacies are guilty of this practice.