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Yes, two French doctors said Covid-19 vaccine trial should be done in Africa

Did two French doctors say a coronavirus vaccine should be tested in Africa?

That’s the claim in status updates and articles posted on Facebook in several African countries.

“French doctors want Covid-19 vaccine to be first tested in Africa,” reads a headline on ABC News Ghana. “Covid-19 new treatment will be tested first in Africa,” reports Nigeria's ABNTV.

They claim French doctors Camille Lochte, head of research at the Inserm health research group, and Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at Cochin Hospital in Paris, made the statements in a TV debate.

The posts have been flagged as possibly false by Facebook’s fact-checking system. What’s the truth here?

‘If I can be provocative’

According to a 3 April 2020 BBC report, the doctors “have been accused of racism after a TV debate in which one suggested trials in Africa to see if a tuberculosis vaccine would prove effective against coronavirus”. The debate was aired on the French channel LCI.

The BBC quotes Mira as saying: “If I can be provocative, shouldn't we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?”

He adds: “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.”

Earlier in the debate, Mira had suggested that the TB trial might not work as planned on healthcare workers in Europe and Australia “because they had access to personal protective equipment to prevent them catching the virus”, the BBC reports.

Locht then reportedly responded: “You are right.” He said his team were “in the process of thinking about a study in parallel in Africa”, in reference to existing trials on other continents.

The video has been widely republished with an English translation that confirms the doctors’ words. Other news outlets such as MSN Sport, Business Insider, and Al Jazeera, and TRT World also reported on it. 

‘Hangover from a colonial mentality’

The comments have drawn widespread condemnation.

“Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said in a press briefing on 6 April.

“On the vaccines issue there was, I think, a comment last week from a couple of scientists who said the testing ground for the new vaccines will be Africa. To be honest, I was so appalled ... these kind of racist remarks actually would not help, it goes against the solidarity,” he said.

“The hangover from a colonial mentality has to stop – and WHO will not allow this to happen. It was a disgrace, actually, and appalling to hear during the 21st century from scientists that kind of remark. 

“We condemn this 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're all human beings.”

Ivorian footballer Didier Drogba tweeted: “It is totally inconceivable we keep on cautioning this. Africa isn’t a testing lab. I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racists words. Helps us save Africa with the current ongoing Covid 19 and flatten the curve.”

Cameroonian football star Samuel Eto'o also slammed the doctors, in an Instagram post: “You’re just SHIT, Africa isn’t your playground.”

Clarification and apology

Inserm, for whom Lochte works, released a statement on Twitter on 2 April calling the clip a “truncated video” that had been misinterpreted on social media. “Clinical trials to test the efficacy of the BCG [TB] vaccine against Covid-19 are ... about to be launched in European countries and in Australia,” it said.

“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.”

Mira has since apologised for his televised remarks. – Africa Check


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