The World Health Organization chief has angrily slammed as “racist” and a remnant of the “colonial mentality” recent comments made by two French scientists suggesting a vaccine for the new coronavirus should be tested in Africa.
“Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference Monday, insisting “we will follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutics all over the world … whether it is in Europe, Africa or wherever.”
Ghebreyesus, who was born in Asmara, capital of present-day Eritrea has served as the health and foreign minister of Ethiopia, called it a “disgrace” and “appalling”.
“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,” the 55-year-old said, adding global race is on to find the cure for the pandemic the world has not seen in several years, he said.
During a TV program, which aired on the French TV channel LCI last week, two French medical experts, Camille Locht, head of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at Cochin Hospital in Paris, discussed whether Africa could be a good test location for the coronavirus vaccine.
Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care 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.”
Camille Locht, head of research at the Inserm health research group seconded the thought and said a study in Africa was already under consideration. He said: “We are in the process of thinking about a study in parallel in Africa.”
The discussion caused an uproar in Africa and worldwide, with many, taking to social media to express disgust at the “racist” views, and point out that Africans are not lab rats.
In Morocco, the Moroccan Lawyers’ Club had slammed the two French doctors and announced its decision to file a complaint for defamation and racism with the public prosecutor in Paris.
“The complaint will be filed by Mr. Mourad Elajouti and Mr. Said Maach, lawyers at the Casablanca Bar,” the Club had said in a statement.
The lawyers club also launched an online campaign, “We are not laboratory rats,” to denounce the comments.
The French scientists’ remarks met a backlash even in France. Olivier Faure of the French Socialist Party said the comments were not provocative but racist. He said Africa is not a laboratory of Europe and the people there are not rats.
French MP of Moroccan origin M’jid El Guerrab asked French justice courts to pursue the two doctors for racism.
“The message behind the two doctor’s statements is shocking and clear: let’s test the vaccine first on Africans and see if it will work,” El Guerrab had told MAP news agency.
“This is an evident call for discrimination based on race. These statements are not only unacceptable but punishable by the law.”
El Guerrab, the son of Moroccan immigrants, clarified that the doctors’ statements constitute a dual crime according to the July 29, 1881, law about press freedom.
“The first crime is the public insult against Africans,” explains El Guerrab, who serves as a member of the National Assembly for the 9th district of French people living abroad.
“The second crime is the call for serious medical testing on Africans based on their origins.”
Despite apologies from Mira on April 3, El Guerrab said he was determined to take the case to court.