The Director General of the World Health Organization Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday condemned racist remarks by some French scientists that the coronavirus vaccine should first be tested on a bunch of Africans to know if it works before it is tested on all other human beings in the world.
The comments were made on the French television channel, LCI, during a discussion last Wednesday about COVID-19 trials set to be launched in Europe and Australia to see if the BCG tuberculosis vaccine could be used to treat the virus.
“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?” said Jean-Paul Mira, head of the intensive care unit at the Cochin Hospital in Paris.
Camille Locht, research director at France’s national health institute, Inserm, agreed: “You are right. And by the way, we are thinking of in parallel about a study in Africa using this same approach.”
The backlash was almost immediate, first on the social media, and elsewhere.
Ivorian professional football player Didier Drogba warned on Twitter that “Africa isn’t a testing lab”. “I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racist words,” added Drogba who used to play for Chelsea.
Olivier Faure, of France’s Socialist Party, said the remarks were hardly a provocation. “It’s not provocation, it’s just racism,” he wrote on Twitter. “Africa is not the laboratory of Europe. Africans are not rats!”
The anti-racism group SOS Racisme called on France’s media regulator, the Conseil Supérieur de L’Audiovisuel (CSA), to formally condemn the remarks.
On Monday, a Nigerian journalist asked WHO officials to comment during a press briefing from Geneva.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the comments as “appalling”. He said they were racist and WHO was condemning them.
“I was so appalled. It was a time when I said, when we needed solidarity, these types of racist remarks actually will not help. It goes against the solidarity.
“Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine. We will follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutic all over the world using exactly the same rules whether it is in Europe, Africa or wherever, we will use the same protocol
“We will treat human beings the same way, equally.
“The hangover from colonial mentality has to stop and WHO will not allow this to happen.
“And it was a disgrace actually, and appalling to hear during the 21st century from scientists that kind of remarks.
“And we condemn this with the strongest terms possible,” the WHO boss said.