Africa and vaccine: WHO blasts 'racist' words and 'colonial mentality'


(Geneva) The televised exchange between two French scientists wondering about the advisability of testing a vaccine against the coronavirus in Africa continues to make a stir: Monday, it is the boss of the WHO who castigated “racist comments” and “a colonial mentality”.


France Media Agency

“These kinds of racist comments do nothing to advance. They go against the spirit of solidarity. Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine, “said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, during a virtual press conference from Geneva.

“The legacy of the colonial mentality must end,” he added, in response to a question from a Nigerian journalist.

M. Tedros did not name the scientists involved, but a heated controversy broke out in France and in Africa, in particular after an exchange between a researcher from the French Institute for Medical Research (INSERM) and a head of a hospital department. Parisian on 1 er April on the LCI channel.

In this sequence, Camille Locht, research director at INSERM in Lille, was asked about research carried out around the BCG vaccine against COVID – 19.

Invited on stage, Jean-Paul Mira, head of the intensive medicine and resuscitation department at Cochin hospital, asked him: “If I can be provocative, shouldn't we do this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatment, no resuscitation, a bit like it is done elsewhere on certain studies with AIDS, or among prostitutes: we try things because we knows they are highly exposed. What do you think ? “

The researcher replies: “You are right, by the way. We are thinking in parallel to a study in Africa with the same type of approach, that does not prevent us from thinking in parallel to a study in Europe and Australia. ”

“It is shameful and horrifying to hear scientists make such comments in 21 e century. We condemn them in the strongest terms, ”thundered Mr. Tedros.

“Guinea pigs”

These exchanges, for which the two accused have since apologized, have been condemned by associations accusing them of wanting to make Africans “guinea pigs”.

The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that they “did not reflect the position of the French authorities”.

“Africa is not a laboratory”, launched the Ivorian football star Didier Drogba while denouncing “serious, racist and contemptuous remarks”. The Club of lawyers in Morocco announced on its Facebook page its intention to “file a complaint for racial defamation”.

The spokesman for Senegalese President Macky Sall also pointed to the spirit of “the colonial unconscious”.

Recalling that the tests would be launched in several European countries and in Australia, INSERM indicated on Twitter that “Africa must not be forgotten or excluded from research, because the pandemic is global”.

If Africa has so far been less affected by the coronavirus than China, southern Europe and the United States, where the only 10 00 0 dead were crossed on Monday, many observers and stakeholders fear the devastating effects of the possible spread of the virus.

Going in the direction of INSERM, the head of the fight against the pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Jean-Jacques Muyembe, indicated that the country was ready to welcome the trials of a future vaccine, citing as an example the vaccines used on an experimental basis in the face of the current Ebola epidemic which is about to be brought under control.

“Perhaps around July, August we can already start to have clinical trials of this vaccine,” added the Congolese virologist, who spoke to the press alongside the ambassador of the States -United in the DRC Mike Hammer.

In a press release from Paris hospitals, Jean-Paul Mira presented his “most sincere apologies” to “those who were struck, shocked, who felt insulted”.

The Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA, gendarme of audiovisual media) confirmed to AFP that it had been contacted by the association SOS Racisme.