Two prominent French doctors have unleashed a storm of criticism after discussing the idea of testing a coronavirus vaccine in Africa on a television show. One of the doctor’s employers said that an excerpt from their discussion had led to “misinterpretations”.
In a program broadcast on LCI on Wednesday, Camille Locht, research director at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) in Lille, was asked about an anti-coronavirus shield using the famous BCG vaccine to tuberculosis.
Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at the Cochin hospital in Paris, asked him if Africa offered better conditions for testing the vaccine.
“If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatment, no intensive care, rather like it has been done with some AIDS studies, where are things tested on prostitutes because it is known that they are very exposed (to HIV)? “Asked Mira. “What do you think?”
Locht replied: “You are right, we are thinking in parallel of a study in Africa with the same type of approach, (but) that does not prevent us from thinking of a study in Europe and Australia at the same time.”
Scientists doing clinical trials are trying to find conditions in which large numbers of people are exposed to the disease, as this gives a better opportunity to test a new drug.
These trials are conducted under strict supervision, which requires that volunteers be informed of any risk and give their informed consent.
But the idea of having Africa as a framework for a vaccine against the coronavirus is controversial.
Africa is the poorest continent in the world and its citizens are the least responsible for the spread of the virus, which originated in China and has spread to the Middle East, Europe and the United States through travel to plane.
At the same time, Africans are poorly exposed to the microbe, both in terms of preparation and health care.
Complaints and prosecution
A French anti-racism NGO, SOS Racisme, issued a statement saying: “No, Africans are not guinea pigs” and described the comparison with AIDS and prostitutes as “problematic” and “unwelcome”.
The CSA, an ethical monitoring body for radio and television in France, told AFP that it had received a complaint.
Among those who expressed anger on social media was a lawyer association in Morocco, which said it planned to file a complaint for “racial defamation”.
INSERM said that a “edited video led to misinterpretations (comments) on social networks”.
#FakeNews A truncated video, taken from an interview on @LCI 1 of our researchers to suggest potential use of the vaccine #BCG against the # COVID19 has been misinterpreted on social media. Here are the good explanations. ⬇️⬇️ pic.twitter.com/3QRcLgOkso
– Inserm (@Inserm) April 2, 2020
He said on Twitter that trials would take place in several European countries and in Australia, and that “Africa should not be forgotten or excluded from research, because the pandemic is global”.
Mira has closed public access to her Twitter account after receiving threats and insults.
He told the Huffington Post that he was deeply upset by the charges against him and apologized if his comments had not been “clear”.
“Clinical trials are taking place everywhere. Less in Africa,” he said.
A trial in a local setting could unlock knowledge that could lead to local benefits, he said.
He highlighted the study on sex workers and HIV, “which was carried out to protect prostitutes in South Africa”.