During a debate on drug testing on French TV, Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at a Parisian hospital said: “If I can be provocative, shouldn’t we be doing this vaccine trial in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation”?
He continued: “It’s 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…”
The response was explosive. World Health Organization head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the remark a hangover from the “colonial mentality.”
“It was a disgrace, appalling, to hear during the 21st century, to hear from scientists, that kind of remark. We condemn this in the strongest terms possible, and we assure you that this will not happen,” Tedros said.
“Africa can’t and won’t be a testing ground for any vaccine,” he added.
“Africa isn’t a testing lab,” Ivorian professional football player Didier Drogba, who used to play for Chelsea, wrote on Twitter. “I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racist words.”
Olivier Faure, of France’s Socialist Party, said the marks were hardly a provocation. “It’s not provocation, it’s just racism,” he wrote on Twitter. “Africa is not the laboratory of Europe. Africans are not rats!”
The anti-racism group SOS Racisme called on France’s media regulator, the Conseil Supérieur de L’Audiovisuel (CSA), to formally condemn the remarks.
“It’s scandalous to see that not a single regulatory authority has come out to publicly denounce these statements,” Amar Thioune, a member of SOS Racisme, told Al Jazeera.
Meanwhile, Le Club des avocats au Maroc, a Moroccan lawyers’ collective, said it was suing Jean-Paul Mira for racial defamation.
Mira later apologized in a statement published by his employer.
“I want to present all my apologies to those who were hurt, shocked and felt insulted by the remarks that I clumsily expressed on LCI this week,” he said.