By Damascene Hakuzimana
An interview with two French doctors on France’s TV station LCI has sparked an angry backlash in the media after the doctors suggested that the COVID-19 vaccine trials due to be launched in Europe and Australia could first be tried out in Africa. The test consists of seeing whether the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Tuberculosis vaccine would be successful in treating COVID-19. Although the vaccine is not widely known in the U.S., it is often – with mixed results – administered to children and infants in countries where TB is common.
Sports figures, political dignitaries, and ordinary citizens from Africa and around the world expressed their outrage at the doctors’ suggestion. They dubbed the comments ‘racist.’ The two doctors in question are Paul Mira, head of the intensive care unit at Cochin Hospital in Paris, and Camille Locht, research director at France’s National Health Institute.
Mira suggested, “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?”
“You are right,” Locht replied.
AfricaNews reported angry reactions from African international football stars. The former Ivorian Chelsea striker Didier Drogba slammed the suggestion that Africa should be used as a test site for a solution to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
“It is totally inconceivable we keep on cautioning this…Africa is not a testing lab. I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false, and most racist of words. Help us save Africa …” Drogba wrote on Twitter.
Demba Ba of Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir also reacted angrily on Twitter. His post read, “Welcome to the West. Where white people believe that they are so superior that racism and stupidity are the norm.”
#AfricansAreNotLabRats #AfricansAreNotGuineaPigs have been trending on Twitter since the controversial Doctors’ interview. World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus condemned the doctors’ remarks, describing them as ‘racist’ and an unfortunate reminder of the ‘colonial mentality.’
Pious Ali of Maine, reached for comment, said, “Since France set foot in Africa in 1659 the colonizers have continuously pilfered whatever they could … I call on the African Union to say no for once to this blatant racism. Our forefathers may not have been equipped to fight the colonizers, but the current leaders have no excuse…Gone are the days when colonizers use poor countries as their labs.”
The Associated Press reports that Doctor Jean-Jacques Muyembe, head of the national biological institute in Congo-Kinshasa, and credited with halting the Ebola outbreak in Congo, takes a different view of the remarks, welcoming the trials in Africa. “The vaccine will be produced in the United States, or in Canada, or in China. We’re candidates for doing the testing here,” said Muyembe. His comments sparked controversy in DR Congo amid charges the population was being used as guinea pigs.
According to Germany’s Deutsche Welle, a Moroccan lawyers’ collective has said it would sue Dr. Mira for racial defamation. The French anti-racism NGO, SOS Racisme, issued a statement saying “No, Africans aren’t guinea pigs,” and described the comparison with AIDS and prostitutes as ‘problematic’ and ‘unwelcome’ The CSA, the ethics watchdog for radio and television in France, told AFP it had received a complaint.
On Friday, April 3, Mira is quoted as saying, “I want to present all my apologies to those who were hurt, shocked, and felt insulted by the remarks I clumsily expressed.”