By Musa Sunusi Ahmad
International Human Rights and Accountability groups (The Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre), Cornerhouse, GlobalWitness and Re:common) have in joint petitions called the attention of the French Consulate in Nigeria, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Director General, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) to the reported attempt by French medical experts to test COVID-19 vaccines in Africa on Africans and the claim that antiretroviral drugs have been previously tested on the continent. The groups urged the Ministry, agency and Consulate to urgently investigate the matter, make public the findings of their investigations, bring culprits to justice, halt any such process that may be in action and protect Nigerians in particular and Africans in general from being used as vaccines testing rats.
In a statement issued in Lagos by HEDA’s Chairman, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju, amid the State’s lockdown to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, HEDA said it was also requesting under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011, information from the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to determine whether antiretroviral drugs were truly tested in Nigeria by French Doctors or pharmaceutical companies by obtaining details of HIV/AIDS drugs and or vaccines manufactured by any French firm and which were certified by NAFDAC for trial and testing in Nigeria from January 2002 to December 2004.
According to the statement, “In a recent development widely circulated by international media outlets, particularly Aljazeera in a publication of April 4, 2020 titled: “Racism row as French doctors suggest virus vaccine test in Africa” and which was also circulated on Twitter, two French doctors (Jean-Paul Mira and Camille Locht) who were interviewed on a French Television Channel, LCI, indicated the tendency of testing the BCG tuberculosis vaccine in Africa on Africans to discover if the vaccine can be used to treat COVID-19. More saddening, the interview also indicated that the practice of using Africans as rats or guinea pigs to test vaccines is not new to the French.
“During the interview, Jean-Paul Mira, head of the Intensive Care unit at the Cochin Hospital in Paris, said: “It may be provocative. Should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment or intensive care, a little bit like it’s been done for certain AIDS studies, where among prostitutes, we try things, because we know that they are highly exposed and don’t protect themselves?”. In the same breath, Camille Locht, Research Director at France’s National Health Institute, Inserm, agreed, saying: “You are right. And by the way, we are thinking in parallel about a study in Africa using this same approach.””
According to the letter to the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, HEDA said: considering that Nigeria would have been the biggest victim of any such attempt in the past and likely in the future, given its stature as the most populous African country, it urged the ministry to “urgently, as a matter of statutory responsibility investigate any past activity of testing antiretroviral drugs in Nigeria; make public findings from the investigations; collaborate with other relevant MDAs to prosecute the offenders; immediately halt any real or potential medical collaboration with the French; in particular investigate the extent of activities that have been carried out by the French authorities to test the COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria with an official demand for explanation/information from the relevant French agencies and to collaborate with all relevant government agencies to take all necessary steps to protect Nigerians from being used as testing rats for the proposed COVID-19 vaccine.”
The organisation also referenced their letter to the Director General of the FCCPC, Mr Babatunde Irukera, where it urged the Commission “to take immediate action to investigate any case of testing antiretroviral drugs on Nigerians in the past or present and bring the offenders to book; frontally address this looming danger to ensure that a mistake is not made to reduce innocent citizens to guinea pigs susceptible to French medical experiments and, to protect the right of Nigerians not to be subjected to such treatment as contained in Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended) and Statutes setting up the Commission.”
In the same vein, HEDA said it also tasked Mrs. Laurence Monmayrant, Consul General of the French Consulate to Nigeria to immediately “initiate investigation into the claim by the above-mentioned French medical professionals that Africans were used to test HIV/AIDS vaccine and advise the French government for appropriate action against those who were complicit in the inhuman act of the antiretrioviral drug test; immediately stop any attempt to test BCG tuberculosis vaccine or any COVID-19 vaccine in Africa on Africans; and publicly apologise to Africans on the racist comment of the two French medical experts.”
According to Mr Suraju, Indeed, statistics as at April 5, 2020 reveals that Europe alone has recorded over 46,000 deaths with the highest number coming from Spain and Italy, while France records over 8,000 deaths as a result of the COVID-19. So far, Africa is the least affected continent with 7,500 cases and 320 deaths. While the deaths are regrettable, he said, the figures show that France and Europe generally are more in need of the vaccine for COVID-19. Therefore, he added, “we urge that whatever vaccine developed or is being developed should be tested in Europe and on Europeans before extending the benevolence to Africa.”
He said: “Africans, particularly Nigerians, are already overburdened with the untoward hardship being faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such discriminatory comments or in fact any attempt to use Africa as a testing lab would only add salt to the injury. Indeed, the Director General of the World Health Oganisation has decried this affront by the French agencies and declared the statements by the French doctors as racist.”
HEDA cautioned that if it were to be established that such experiments have in fact been undertaken, with inadequate or limited free, prior and informed consent, then such would constitute a case of serious medical malpractice, and place the practitioners in breach of the post-Nuremberg code on “Permissible Medical Experiment” – a situation that would be completely untenable and beyond excuse.