The French embassy in South Africa has expressed shock about a proposal by two top French doctors that Africa should become a giant laboratory for coronavirus vaccines testing because the continent lacks the resources to defend against the infections.
In the live broadcast on the French TV channel LCI, Jean-Paul Mira and Camille Locht raised the idea of testing new vaccines on impoverished African populations.
Mira is head of the intensive care department at the Cochin Hospital in Paris, while Locht is research director at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm).
“If I can be provocative,” said Mira, “shouldn’t we do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment, no intensive care? A bit like we did in some studies on AIDS. We tried things on prostitutes because they are highly exposed and do not protect themselves.”
Locht agreed, saying: “You are right. We (Inserm) are actually thinking of a parallel study in Africa to use with the same kind of approach with BCG placebos,” referring to vaccination against tuberculosis which appeared to have protected children against infections, particularly respiratory ones.
The footage, broadcast on April 1, triggered a deluge of outrage accusing the doctors of white colonial attitudes. Several of Africa’s leading footballers, including former Chelsea star Didier Drogba and former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, expressed their anger.
In a statement, the French embassy in South Africa said that exchange “provoked strong reactions”.
“We are deeply shocked by these comments, that of course, do not reflect the position of the French authorities.”
It said that the French government is committed to increased efforts to fight the coronavirus in Africa, “within the framework of the G7, the G20 and the European Union”.
“Vulnerable countries, particularly on the African continent, need assistance in support of their health systems, research, and also in humanitarian and economic terms to reduce the impact of the crisis. What is at stake is the solidarity with vulnerable countries, as well as the need to avoid a resurgence of the epidemic after it has subsided in other countries of the world.”
But describing it as “fake news”, Inserm tweeted that the video was misinterpreted on social media.