French physicians ignite debate on whether testing coronavirus treatments in Africa is racist exploitation or necessary research
The Chinese consul-general in Alexandria, Jiao Li Ying, has confirmed his country’s pledge that Egypt will be among the first African countries to benefit from a Chinese-developed COVID-19 vaccine once it is ready.
The consul, speaking on June 30, also affirmed Beijing’s commitment to cooperate with Cairo and various other African capitals to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 75,000 Egyptians have come down with the disease, and about 3,000 have died.
Previously, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, condemned what he termed “racist remarks” made on French television by a pair of scientists who said new vaccines should be tested in Africa.
The WHO director said back on April 6 that he was “appalled” and “these kinds of racist remarks” did not help at a time when the world needed solidarity.
Both French doctors were accused of racism on social media.
Guy Burton, a visiting fellow at the LSE Middle East Centre and an adjunct professor of international relations at Vesalius College in Brussels, told The Media Line that the consul-general’s remarks were in line with what Chinese President Xi Jinping said a few weeks ago during a virtual meeting with African leaders.
“Some African countries that have been partnering with China on Belt and Road projects and investment found themselves becoming indebted even before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Burton noted.
Xi said there would be debt relief for some of the loans and a restructuring of other forms of debt, he said, adding: “I’d see the recent statements about China’s partnership with Africa over COVID-19 assistance as part of this outreach.”
Burton continued: “So far, I can’t tell whether Chinese companies have been carrying out vaccine research and development in African countries. There’s a number [of such efforts] taking place in China while other, non-Chinese companies have been doing some research in Africa.”
So far, I can’t tell whether Chinese companies have been carrying out vaccine research and development in African countries. There’s a number [of such efforts] taking place in China while other, non-Chinese companies have been doing some research in Africa
He added that the most advanced development initiative seems to be one being carried out by a team in China together with a Canadian company, saying there was talk about fast-tracking it for use in the Chinese military.
As for the French doctors who speculated about conducting research and development in Africa, Burton said that perhaps this was because there might be looser ethical standards there.
“Criticism was made quite quickly, but also some analysts pointed out that it may be necessary to do some testing in Africa because of the variety of different contexts and effects that a vaccine might have on different groups of people and environments there,” he stated.
In terms of developing a COVID-19 vaccine, few companies are active and testing in Africa than elsewhere in the world.
“Egypt and South Africa are probably home to most of them,” he said.
Burton says it is not yet clear whether a Chinese vaccine would be freely available for African nations.
“I’d imagine that Beijing has one eye on the American response, which received some criticism in recent months, where they said that if they achieve a vaccine they will prioritize its production and use at home rather than making it available for everyone,” he said.
I’d imagine that Beijing has one eye on the American response, which received some criticism in recent months, where they said that if they achieve a vaccine they will prioritize its production and use at home rather than making it available for everyone
The Chinese president and his advisers see they can win easy points with other countries by offering some vaccines for free or at cost, he adds.
“If you go back to the start of 2017, Xi Jinping won a lot of plaudits by portraying China as the defender of globalization, as opposed to the incoming Trump Administration’s protectionist instincts and ‘America First’ attitude,” Burton said.
The Chinese consul in Alexandria added in a press statement published at the end of June: “A few days ago, the Extraordinary China-Africa Summit on Solidarity Against COVID-19 was held online in the presence of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, other leaders of African countries, and international organizations to discuss cooperation plans against the epidemic and to promote brotherly relations between China and Africa, and this summit has far-reaching significance.”
The press release noted that China was committed to providing material assistance and medical experts to African countries, and assisting them in purchasing medical materials from China. The envoy also noted that his country would begin construction this year of the headquarters of the Africa Center for Disease Control in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, ahead of schedule.
Mahmoud al-Sharbene, an Egyptian political activist and commentator, told The Media Line his country was experiencing difficulties in facing the global COVID-19 pandemic in terms of dealing with the number of infected persons and organizing society to prevent the spread of the disease.
Medical personnel were doing their best, he said, but were constrained by very weak and limited resources.
“I don’t think Egypt will have any role in terms of developing a vaccine besides testing it on citizens, and as for any new vaccine, before testing it on people, its issues and features must be announced in advance, in addition to any risks that might accompany it,” Sharbene said.
I don’t think Egypt will have any role in terms of developing a vaccine besides testing it on citizens, and as for any new vaccine, before testing it on people, its issues and features must be announced in advance, in addition to any risks that might accompany it
He added that Chinese pledges of cooperation might be designed only to calm people down after the rapid increase in infections, “especially since China has made similar promises to several other countries.”
Sharbene noted that the number of hospitals was very limited relative to Egypt’s population of 100 million.
“Any cooperation with any party in terms of countering the coronavirus will be one sided, as Cairo won’t play any significant role,” he stated.