Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, stated in a strong-worded objection to a proposal by two French doctors that a vaccine against the novel Coronavirus should be tested first Africa, just as was done in the case of HIV some years ago.
Addressing a media briefing on COVID-19, on Tuesday, he stated: “On the vaccines issue, there was a comment last week from a couple of scientists who said the testing ground for the new vaccines will be Africa, to be honest, I was so appalled”.
He described the comment as a ‘racist remark’, which would not help at a time the world needed solidarity.
“The hangover from the colonial mentality has to stop,” he emphasised. “WHO will not allow this to happen – it is a disgrace and appalling to hear this kind of remarks from scientists during the 21st century.
“The WHO condemns the remarks of testing any vaccines on Africans with the strongest possible term”.
Camille Locht, Research Director for France’s National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm), was talking about a vaccine trial in Europe and Australia, during a debate on the French TV channel LCI.
Jean-Paul Mira, Head of Intensive Care at Cochin Hospital in Paris, then said: “If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, and no resuscitation?
“A bit like it is done elsewhere for some studies on AIDS where on prostitutes we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves….” Mr Locht agreed to the suggestion, and said: “You are right. We are in the process of thinking about a study in parallel in Africa.”
Dr Mira had earlier questioned whether the study would work as planned on healthcare workers in Australia and Europe or not because they had access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while working.
But Dr Ghebreyesus emphasised that the WHO would follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutics all over the world, as well as use the same protocol whether in Europe, Africa or wherever to treat human beings equally.
“ Africa will not or cannot be the testing grounds for the vaccines,” he objected, adding that proper protocols will be followed and human beings will be treated as human beings”.