2 top French doctors said on live TV that coronavirus vaccines should be tested on poor Africans, leaving viewers horrified

A man during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown near Durban, South Africa.

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A man during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown near Durban, South Africa.
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Rogan Ward/REUTERS
  • Two highly respected French doctors discussed on live television how a new COVID-19 vaccine under development should be first tested in Africa, “where there are no masks, no treatment, nor intensive care.”
  • One of them, Jean-Paul Mira, even compared Africans to prostitutes who were the focus of past AIDS studies. “We tried things on prostitutes because they are highly exposed and do not protect themselves,” he said.
  • Several African soccer stars who played in Europe, including the former Chelsea star Didier Drogba and the former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, tweeted their outrage at the two medics’ remarks.
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A discussion between two top French doctors on live TV left viewers horrified when they proposed that Africa should become a giant laboratory for coronavirus vaccine testing because the continent lacked the resources to defend against COVID-19.

In the segment 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 the research director at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, known as Inserm.

“If I can be provocative,” Mira said, “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 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 that Inserm says has appeared to protect children against infections, particularly respiratory ones.

“We will in fact think seriously about it,” he said.

The footage, broadcast Wednesday, triggered a deluge of outrage accusing the doctors of white colonial attitudes.

Several of Africa’s leading soccer players, including the former Chelsea star Didier Drogba and the former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o, also tweeted their anger.

Drogba, who is from Ivory Coast, 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.”

“Welcome to the West, where white people believe themselves to be so superior that racism and debility become commonplace,” tweeted Ba, who is from Senegal. “Time to rise.”

Inserm, ranked as the world’s second-best research institution in the health sector, issued an official statement on Twitter saying the proposal had been “wrongly interpreted” and included the hashtag “#FakeNews.”

On Thursday, there were more than 6,700 confirmed coronavirus cases and 229 deaths in Africa, with many countries imposing a range of preventive and containment measures against the spread of the pandemic, according to African health officials.

France alone has logged 59,105 infections and 5,387 deaths.