Global conversations over the coronavirus pandemic generated a racism row when French doctors on a national TV program proposed that a potential vaccine should first be tried on Africans.
Jean-Paul Mira, who mooted the idea, is the head of intensive care at Cochin hospital in Paris. He was in the discussion along with Camille Locht, head of research at France’s health research institute.
The pair had been invited to speak on the potential headway made by scientists in the fight against COVID-19.
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They spoke about BCG, a drug usually administered to babies with tuberculosis had been found by some studies to be potent in the treatment of people infected by the coronavirus.
But cautioning optimism, Mira said on the channel LCI :
If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation? A bit like as 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.”
This sentiment was shared by Locht, who responded, “You are right. We are in the process of thinking about a study in parallel in Africa.”
The backlash was swift. Many who took to social media to comment pointed out how racialized they believe Mira’s suggestion was.
The likes of soccer legends Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast and Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon also chipped in. Both expressed concern over what seemed like an attempt to treat Africans as “guinea pigs”.
Indeed, Mira’s concerns about how dire the situation is in Africa do not reflect reality. The continent, with just a little under 8,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, is the continent least affected by the deadly disease.
On their part, INSERM, where Locht works, defended what was said on TV, arguing:
“Clinical trials to test the efficacy of the BCG vaccine against Covid-19 are… about to be launched in European countries and in Australia…If there is indeed a reflection around a deployment in Africa, it would be done in parallel with these. Africa must not be forgotten or excluded from research because the pandemic is global.”