The BBC reports that on Friday, Dr Mira apologised for his comments, saying in a statement released 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."
Indeed, Cameroon-Info.Net recalls that two French doctors have since been accused of racism after a TV debate in which one suggested trials in Africa to see if a tuberculosis vaccine would prove effective against coronavirus.
During the debate on TV channel LCI, Camille Locht, head of research at the Inserm health research group, was talking about a trial in Europe and Australia.
Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at Cochin hospital in Paris, then says: “If I can be provocative, shouldn't we be doing this study in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments, no resuscitation?”
“A bit like as it is done elsewhere for some studies on Aids. In prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.”
Dr Mira had earlier questioned whether the study would work as planned on healthcare workers in Europe and Australia because they had access to personal protective equipment to prevent them catching the virus.
“You are right,” Dr Locht responded.
"We are in the process of thinking about a study in parallel in Africa," he said, referencing the existing trials in countries in other continents.
The comments received an angry response on social media, including from former footballers Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o.
“I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racist words,” Drogba tweeted.
“Do not take African people as human guinea pigs! It’s absolutely disgusting,” he added.
Eto'o called the doctors "murderers".
Fidelis Cho-Ngwa, Full Professor of Biochemistry, Biotechnology and Drug Discovery at Cameroon’s University of Bamenda said such a plan to test a possible COVID-19 vaccine in Africa is unacceptable given that more of the problem is elsewhere.
Taking to Facebook Friday, April 3, 2020 “on the issue of new vaccine testing”, the celebrated Professor said stages one and two which are focused on safety, dosage and proof of efficacy should happen around where the product is made before it can then be extended elsewhere.
Hear Professor Cho-Ngwa: “It is not acceptable that a new vaccine or drug is produced in continent X, which has more of the problem and the first stage I clinical trial is done but elsewhere. No, not acceptable!
“Stages I and II trials, which are focused on safety, dosage and proof of efficacy, etc should happen where or around where the product is made. Then the later stage, stage III trial, which is out to test diversity of the efficacy, etc can happen elsewhere, including in Africa, under the strict supervision of local scientists and under strict "informed consent" rules. Anything else will be unethical, illegal and unacceptable.”
But Inserm said in a statement that the video was “the subject of erroneous interpretations”.
“Clinical trials to test the efficacy of the BCG vaccine against Covid-19 are... about to be launched in European countries and in Australia,” it said.
“If there is indeed a reflection around a deployment in Africa, it would be done in parallel with these. Africa must not be forgotten or excluded from research because the pandemic is global."
BCG is a vaccination mostly given to babies in countries where tuberculosis is common. Some recent studies have suggested that countries where BCG is administered reported fewer deaths related to Covid-19.
So far, Africa has been the continent least affected by the virus, but confirmed cases - and deaths - are increasing. With confirmed cases in Africa rising at a rate of approximately 26 percent per day, time is of the essence if Africa is to avoid the worst effects of the pandemic. While nearly two-thirds of affected African countries thus far have reported only imported infections, slowing the exponential expansion of the virus will increasingly rely on reducing in-country transmissions, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies says.
Cameroon registered 203 cases of the coronavirus Friday with fears that the figures may soar. As we went to press, the country had reported in total 509 positive cases of COVID-19, 17 cured and 8 deaths.