Paidamoyo Chipunza Senior Health Reporter
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described views of two French scientists who last week suggested that trials for a Covid-19 vaccine could be done in Africa as “racist” and a hangover of “colonial mentality”.
Speaking to journalists during his daily virtual Press briefings on Monday, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said human beings were equal.
He insisted that existing laid down procedures for trials would be adhered to in all research anywhere in the world.
“We will follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutics all over the world, using exactly the same route, whether it is in Europe, Africa or wherever. We will use the same protocol,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.
He warned the scientists to stop what he described as a “hangover from colonial mentality”.
“It was a disgrace, appalling to hear during the 21st century from scientists, that kind of remark,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.
“We condemn it in the strongest terms possible, but we assure you that this will not happen in Africa and will not happen elsewhere in any country.
“Proper protocols will be followed and human beings will be treated as human beings because we are all human beings.”
The two French scientists, Dr Camille Locht, head of research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and Dr Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at Cochin Hospital in Paris were having a discussion on vaccines during a televised programme, which aired on the French channel LCI last week.
The scientists both agreed that Africa was the best location for their BCG tuberculosis vaccine tests, which is currently being tried in Europe and Australia against Covid-19, because of Africa’s vulnerabilities.
“If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation,” said Dr Mira during the debate.
“A bit like it is done elsewhere for some studies on Aids. In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.”
Dr Locht chipped in, “You are
right. We are in the process of thinking about a study in parallel in Africa.”
Dr Mira has since apologised for the wayward remarks, while INSERM said comments by one of their scientist Dr Locht had been misunderstood.
What puzzled many about the two scientists’ views was that they came at a time statistics showed that far many people were being affected by Covid-19 in Western countries, as compared to African countries.
Some people were of the view that the tests of the vaccines should start in the most affected Western countries before coming to Africa where the disease has so far affected less numbers.
There is an unverified hypothesis that the BCG vaccine may give some resistance to Covid-19, or at least lessen the severity of the infection.
A proper trial has now started in Australia, using volunteer health personnel who are frequently exposed to infection, but results are not expected for some months.
Most children in Africa and most other developing countries have, in fact, been routinely vaccinated with BCG for some decades as part of the programme to eliminate tuberculosis, with only people in the developed world normally not vaccinated.