06 / 05 / 2020

AHO Response to Petition Calling For No Corona Virus Vaccine Trials in Africa

Written by Lauren Granger – Volunteer Speechwriter

Approved by Graciano Masauso – President & CEO

This past week has seen a global response of outrage and fury to suggestions made by two French scientists that Corona virus vaccine trials should be conducted in Africa. The immediacy, extent, and intensity of the response are an acute reminder that the repercussions of a colonial legacy of exploitation are not a thing of a distant past, but a painful reality lived and felt by many Africans today. The African Health Organisation, in its work to promote and contribute to the health and well-being of the peoples of Africa, is very much alive to this reality.

One response to these now infamous comments has been the creation of an online petition calling for no Corona virus vaccine trials in Africa, and it is to this petition that the African Health Organisation wishes to respond.

Covid-19, caused by the novel 2019 Corona virus, has been declared a pandemic. While the devastating consequences of the disease, have to date, been felt most in China, Italy, Spain and the USA, they are being and will be felt globally, and in all likelihood, ultimately, by Africa most of all. The whole world finds itself traversing unprecedented situations, unprecedented times.

There is therefore a need for research efforts to be swift and global — co-ordinated and conducted across national borders and not confined within them.  It is imperative that Africa is not excluded from these research efforts.

Key to such research efforts is and will be the running of clinical trials to find a treatment and/or vaccine for the Corona virus. For a myriad of reasons, it is important that clinical trials are run in various different countries where different geographical and socio-economic factors are at play.

While the African Health Organisation condemns racism and does not, in any way, condone the notion or suggestion of Africa as a testing ground or her people as ‘Guinee pigs’, it cannot support a petition calling for no Corona virus vaccine trials in Africa, but calls instead for the inclusion of African countries in all stages of the global research effort and processes ­ ­- in debate, in planning and in testing.  Africa must not be exploited, and she must not be excluded.

The African Health Organisation is cognisant of the fact that the running of clinical trials poses ethical challenges. These challenges are not unique to Corona virus specific trials and there are certain international guidelines and recommendations for the ethical conduct of clinical trials. Examples include the careful assessment of the potential benefits and harms of a trial, obtaining informed consent from participants, and the protection of vulnerable participants. The African Health Organisation calls for all Corona virus trials to be conducted ethically, in keeping with such guidelines. The protection of the human rights of all Corona virus trial participants must be paramount at all times. It must be acknowledged that this is a particularly pertinent consideration in Africa, where the wounds of a long history of human rights violations remain raw, and where the majority of trial participants will be vulnerable participants.

The African Health Organisation remains committed as ever to its work and vision to promote equity in health, to combat disease, and to improve the quality of, and lengthen the lives of the peoples of Africa during these challenging times.