The search for a COVID-19 vaccine has sparked international media controversy and negative sentiment around the potential harm of people taking part in clinical trials once the research enters its human testing phase.
A wave of anger was ignited when two top French doctors said on live TV that coronavirus vaccines should be tested on poor Africans. The doctors later apologised for suggesting that COVID-19 vaccine trials should be carried out on a continent where the people were largely impoverished, with limited resources, and unable to protect themselves.
The statements made by Camille Locht and Jean-Paul Mira fed into a world already fissured by deep-rooted racial and economic discrimination.
Stigmatisation and discrimination in previously colonised African countries swung into focus, resulting in research becoming the target of populist rhetoric. Didier Drogba, a retired footballer, raised the issue that African people should not be used as guinea pigs in a testing lab. Samuel Eto’o, another retired footballer, called the doctors “murderers”.
The comments also resulted in the launch of a social media initiative in the form of a Change.org petition to stop coronavirus trials in Africa. The reasoning was that “Africa and developing countries have been testing grounds of large pharmaceutical companies” using the poor as the “guinea pigs of the wealthy”.
Not unlike fake news, the resultant outcome of the doctor’s racist comments was worldwide misinformation. Modern day research and clinical trials are highly regulated. In a COVID-19 world, scientific activity to develop a vaccine for global use is under careful scrutiny. Short of finding a cure, a vaccine is the only viable means to manage the devastating future outcome of the disease. A vaccine will need to be tested, and the world is watching. The doctors’ racism, however, unequivocally reminded the African continent of past medical discrimination at the hands of European countries. The result was a gratuitous attack on scientific research.
Finding a vaccine for COVID-19 is a worldwide medical emergency, necessary to prevent the death of millions of people. Should Africa participate in a global clinical trial? Absolutely. To refuse inclusion would prevent Africa’s researchers from being significant players in the universal fight against the virus.
About the Author: Dr Gale Ure is the author of the chapter on substance abuse in Abnormal Psychology: A South African Perspective published by Oxford University Press 1st, 2nd and Psychopathology: South African Perspectives (3rd edition), and is an associate editor of the International Journal of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (Springer).
Source: The Conversation