WHO Chief Tedros slams suggestions to test COVID-19 vaccine in Africa as 'colonial mentality'
Updated 12:19, 08-Apr-2020

Director-General of the WHO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Africa will not become a testing ground for COVID-19 vaccines, condemning comments by French doctors who said a vaccine could be trialed in the continent.

"Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine. We will follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutics all over the world using exactly the same rule, whether it's in Europe, Africa or wherever," Tedros said in Geneva on Monday.

Tedros said he is "appalled" by comments made last week by scientists, who said the testing ground for new vaccines will be Africa, adding that the "hangover from a colonial mentality has to stop."

Two French doctors have been accused of racism after appearing on a TV debate during which one suggested trials in Africa to see if a tuberculosis vaccine would prove effective against coronavirus, according to news reports.

He condemned the "racist remarks" in "the strongest terms," calling them "a disgrace."

"Proper protocols will be followed and human beings will be treated as human beings ... the same way equally," he underlined.

Tedros revealed that the WHO would hopefully announce later this week an initiative to accelerate research, development and production of vaccines against COVID-19, as well as designed mechanisms for "equitable distribution" of the vaccines.

"We will have a problem while looking for vaccines, unless we break the barriers to equitable distribution of the products," he said, adding "we need to address the challenges to access ahead of time."

According to the WHO chief, more than 70 countries have joined the WHO's Solidarity Trial to accelerate the search for an effective treatment, and about 20 institutions and companies are racing to develop a vaccine. 

First African heading WHO

Tedros is the former health minister and foreign minister of Ethiopia, and was elected in May 2017 as the WHO's first African director-general. He has become the public face of the global fight against coronavirus.

The 55-year-old, who was born in Asmara, Eritrea, holds a doctorate of philosophy in community health and a master of science in immunology of infectious diseases, both from British universities.

Vowing to make universal health care his central priority, he is the first director-general in the WHO's 72-year history not to be a medical doctor.

Since taking the helm, he has instituted reforms at the UN agency's headquarters in Geneva and 150 country offices, with a total of 7,000 staff.

Tedros made 10 trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo during its 19-month Ebola epidemic to support WHO operations, and visited China weeks after the new coronavirus emerged.

(With input from Xinhua, Reuters) 

(Cover: Laboratory technician Irene Ooko attends to a patient seeking a test for the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, at the Pathologists Lancet Kenya laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya, April 5, 2020. /AP)