Nigerian, international rights groups launch global campaign against French plan to test vacine in AfricaBy Samuel OgunsonaNigerian and International civil rights movements have launched a spirited campaign to stop plans by France to test the coronavirus vaccine in any part of Africa.The groups, The International Human Rights and Accountability Groups, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre), Cornerhouse, GlobalWitness and Re:common in a joint statement made available to Irohinoodua said Thursday’s appointment of President Mohammadu Buhari to leader the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS), in the fight against COVID-19 presents a unique springboard for Africa to resist what they described as “a bizzare evil plot”The statement signed by HEDA’s Chairman, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju called on the African Union, (AU) and the African Human Rights Commission to immediately institute a panel to probe the French proposal.It urged Nigeria to provide leadership at a critical moment.The petition was sent to African Heads of State, AU, World Health Organisation, (WHO), French President Emmanuel Macron, the European Parliament in Brussels, Beligium and several local and international organisations.There are 51 countries in Africa with a population of 1.2billion people a sixth of which are Nigerians.In the strongly worded statement the coalition warned of dare consequences if France goes ahead to “use Africa and Africans as guinea pigs” in the proposed Coronavirus vaccine test.The letter called on the World Health Organisation? (WHO) and the AU to provide “coordinated response” to what they described as an assault on humanity reports that the France wants to test the proposed vaccine in Africa.The groups urged the AU to make a strong statement and assert its solidarity against the French proposal.The groups also drew the attention of the French Consulate in Nigeria, the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Director General, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC) to the widespread reports of attempts by French medical experts to test COVID-19 vaccines in Africa on AfricansThe groups also claimed that antiretroviral drugs have been previously tested in some parts of the continent.The groups want the AU Conference of Ministers of Health and the African civil rights movements to rise up to what they described as “a urgent historical responsibility.”They urged the African Health Ministries, Agencies to urgently investigate the matter, make public the findings of their investigations, and bring culprits to justice adding that the effort must be halted.“COVID-19 did not emanate from Africa. Africans are no rats. Any such process of testing unproven vacines in Africa assaults the dignity and the time honoures history of African people,” Suraju said.It said that though the campaign is beginning in Nigeria, civil society groups, labour movements and community based associations across the continent will be enlisted to stop the plot.,The groups said it will file a request for the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011, to compel the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to reveal 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.In recent media local and international media reports including 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 social media two French doctors (Jean-Paul Mira and Camille Locht) who were interviewed on a French Television Channel, LCI, indicated the prospect of testing the BCG tuberculosis vaccine in Africa on Africans to discover if the vaccine can be used to treat COVID-19.Suraju said 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, 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 African countries 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.”Suraju asked Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister to be in the forefront of the campaign.At the local front, the organisations also sent a copy of the 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.”Suraju 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.”Mr Suraju recall that 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.