When two French scientists used their appearance on a French television channel-La Chaine Info- (LCI is a free-to-air channel) to suggest that testing for a coronavirus vaccine should take place in Africa “where there are no masks, treatment and no intensive” care, I cringed. We might as well have been listening to Western Scientists of the 17th century.
Except we were not. The lofty French scientists made their haughty remarks on their April 1st 2020 (it was not an April Fool’s Day appearance for you intending to write off their remarks) television appearance, repeating a Western Scientists precedent of targeting African bodies for the riskiest scientific experimentations that gain them legacies at the expense of their research subjects.
The French Scientists Dr. Jean Paul and Professor Camille Locht had the temerity to suggest vaccine studies on Africans without the presence in the two-man discussion, of any senior African Health professionals. In fashion similar to the infamous 1884 Berlin Conference at which some White men parcelled out territories of Africa for themselves in total absence of any African leaders, the French Scientists paraded our bodies as lab rats for Western Scientists experimentation in our absentia.
“It may be provocative. Should we not do this study in Africa where there are no masks, no treatment or intensive care, 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?” wondered Jean-Paul Mira the head of Intensive Medicine and Intensive Care at Paris’ Cochin Hospital, in the TV debate.
The backup supportive response of tv-appearance-colleague Professor Camille the Research Director at France’s National Health Institute-(abbreviated as INSERM)- was not surprising when you have read as I have, about the general solidarity among many Western Scientists.
“You are right. And by the way, we are thinking of in parallel about a study in Africa using this same approach.” Locht replied.
More than being disconcerted by the contemptuous manner in which the Scientists freely paraded Africans as the non-consensual lab rats for the West’s vaccination exercises-remaining silent on the underlying self-interests that have historically driven such initiatives- I thought of the numerous articles of projected Western concern that I have read in the West’s media since the pandemic’s outbreak in Europe-over Africans so far largely unaffected. They reek of the West’s infantalized view of Africans that predates their first interaction with us.
In their trumpeted concern about the health of Africans in the COVID19 pandemic, Western Scientists and their cohorts in the Western media retain grave-like silence on the devastating consequences such forced and disguised exercises have had on Africans-of which scores of deaths and debilitated quality of lives are some of the real leftover consequences.
The Eto people of Cameroon remember too well the scores of deaths, diseases and humiliation they suffered under colonial-France’s forceful medical campaigns of sleeping sickness, malaria, syphilis, yellow fever, leprosy, yaws and conducted between 1921-1956.
In recalling the devastating effects of the forcefully administered sleeping sickness injections that Cameroonians endured from France’s overzealous colonial medical teams, the Eto people composed a song (see below) that is their recorded reminder of the disturbing phenomenon.
The injection against sleeping sickness was too painful
The injection against sleeping sickness was too painful
They gave me an injection in the head
They gave me an injection in the neck
They gave me an injection in the back….
They ask me to go draw water from the well
If I drag my feet
The policemen hit me on the head
The injection against sleeping sickness was too painful
The book-“The Lomidine Files: The Untold Story of a Medical Disaster in Colonial Africa”-by Guillaume Lachenal an Associate Professor at the University Paris Diderot and who studies the history of anthropology and medicine in Africa- best captures the devastating consequences from this largely disastrous sleeping sickness mass exercise of the 1950’s-1960’s.
Between 1921-1956, France’s colonial governments embarked on extensive medical campaigns in Cameroon and the former French Equatorial Africa (today’s Chad, Gabon, the Republic of Congo- which is not to be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo) in bid to eradicate tropical diseases that were wiping out Europeans who in hijacking African territories, needed a medical solution to keep themselves alive while out there. Whatever diseases they regarded as “the white man’s grave”, Africans were to be the lab rats on first test whatever solutions Western Scientists had devised, before they would then be used on Europeans.
In attempt to treat the fatal parasitic sleeping sickness disease which was spread by the bite of a tsetse fly, roving medical teams penetrated deep into Cameroon’s villages giving mandatory injections of medications such as Lomidine and Atoxyl which were the first available fronted treatments.
“After the Second World War, French colonial health services armed with a newly discovered drug, made the eradication of sleeping sickness their priority. A single injection of Lomidine (known as Pentamidine in the United States) promised to protect against infection for six months or longer,” reads an English translated overview of Lachenal’s- The Lomidine File-by Noemi Tousignant.
“But the drug proved to be inefficient and dangerous. Contaminated injections caused bacterial infections that progressed to gangrene, killing dozens of people. Shockingly, the French physicians who administered the shots seemed to know the drug’s risks: while they obtained signed consent before giving Lomidine to French citizens, they administered it to Africans without their consent-sometimes by force,” continues Noemi in her overview of the book.
“Lomidine injections also led to disaster: hundreds of cases of gas gangrene and scores of deaths particularly in French Equatorial Africa. Lachenal’s core argument is thorough and damning, demonstrating what is widely intuitive but left unsaid: that colonial medicine was grounded not in holistic expertise or the best science of the day but in mediocrity, stubbornness, hasty compromise and ultimately a collective amnesia in self-evaluation,” reads another overview of The Lomidine Files by Mari K Webel an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh.
It was disturbing but not surprising to listen to the French Scientists justify the vaccine trial exercise in Africa to “lack of face masks, treatment and no intensive care”. A well conducted online research would have brought them up to speed with the existence of masks and public treating hospitals in Africa-the challenges of public health notwithstanding.
“Over the course of several decades, millions of individuals in colonial French West Africa were subjected to medical examinations and forced to receive injections of medications with dubious efficacy and with serious side effects including blindness, gangrene and death,” reads an extract from the publication ‘The Legacy of Colonial Medicine in Central Africa’ by Harvard Scholars Sara Lowes and Eduardo Montero.
If you imagine that the scramble of African bodies by Western Scientists is a by-gone colonial precedent, I should point out to you the book ‘Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present’. The author Harriet. A. Washington an esteemed American Medical Ethics scholar documents the entrenched history of medical abuse Black Americans have endured at the hands of immoral White American Scientists from as far back as the slavery days-to current times.
Africans and Blacks in the developed world have been victims of dangerous medical experimentations that have caused death, disfigurement, limb loss, crippling, chronic illness, intractable pain, stolen fertility and undignified display to their faceless victims (while the Scientists are venerated) .
Scientific fraud and abuse have often been travelling partners when it comes to research into African American health, states Harriet.
White Scientists in the slavery days viewed Blacks as “vectors of infectious disease” a descriptor they fronted as factual and used to justify exclusive experiments on Black bodies-of which the obsession with Black bodies is another well documented topic by different scholars.
In her book, Harriet cites many incidents of Black victims of such experimentations-the poor and illiterate being the most targeted-and who reaped consequences such as being injected with vaccines with unacceptably high lethality, being subjected to surreptitious surgical and medical procedures, excluded from lifesaving treatments or their bodies secretly farmed for sera or tissues that are used to perfect technologies for infectious diseases.
Like the French Scientists did, their American counterparts always exaggerate the benefits of their intended treatments and underplay the risks to the patients both during and after experimentation.
From as far back as the 18th century, Black Americans have been targeted by Western Scientists who hanker after the Black bodies that they have used to perfect cutting-edge medical technology which once successful and launched on the market, is out of reach to the very people that were used to birth it.
HIGHLIGHTED DOCUMENTED DUBIOUS MEDICAL EXPERIMENTS IN THE BOOK-“MEDICAL APARTHEID: THE DARK HISTORY OF MEDICAL EXPERIMENTATION ON BLACK AMERICANS FROM COLONIAL TO PRESENT TIMES”.
Between 1932-1972, 600 hundred Black American men were recruited into a dubious syphilis treatment by the US Public Health Services (1932) Those recruited with syphilis numbered 399 while those without were 201.
Recruits for the “Study of Syphilis in the Untreated Negro Male” (popularly called the Tuskegee Syphilis Study) as it was titled, were promised free medical care by PHS Scientists who were among the White Scientists that parroted the belief-disguised-as-fact that “venereal diseases manifested differently in Blacks than in Whites”.
Rather than offer treatment to the infected recruits, the PHS Scientists deliberately withheld treatment without their recruits’ knowledge.
As directed by the PHS Scientists, researchers were given placebos such as aspirin and other ineffectual doses of arsenic, mercury salve and mineral supplements to disperse as treatment to their trusting subjects. Meantime, the researchers monitored the progression of the disease in the recruits, for their own scientific gain.
The recruits soon started dying, some became blind while others became insane as researchers continued withholding treatment from them without their knowledge.
The plight of the recruits would become known in 1960 when a PHS venereal disease investigator Peter Buxton learnt about the Tuskegee Study and the unethical manner it was being conducted.
When confronted, rather than stop the study the PHS officials insisted on still carrying on with it without informing the recruits of its non-therapeutic outcomes. They continued monitoring the recruited men, until all had died.
At time of death, the men had respectively infected 40 of their wives with syphilis and had born to them, 19 babies with syphilitic birth defects. The Tuskegee Study is listed among America’s most scandalous and dehumanising public health studies.
Harriet notes that the disproportionate use of black bodies to perfect cutting-edge medical technologists by Western Scientists is not novel. Even Western medieval lore entertained the belief that Black bodies were suitable for use in experimental treatments.
A medieval engraving by 15th century artist Girolamo da Cremona entitled ‘Saints Cosmas and Damian Transplanting a Leg” shows the transplanting of a black leg onto a white body. The moral in the story is the miraculous life regained by Saint Cosmas after his amputated leg was replaced by a black grafted one.
In fronting Africans as lab rats for the benefit of Western Science, Western Scientists might actually consider that it in the early days of their Science, it was considered prestigious for Scientists to volunteer themselves for experimentation.
Quoting Lawrence Altman’s book “Who Goes First? The Story of Self Experimentation’, Harriet Washington exposes us to Western Physicians long and adhered to tradition of following animal studies with limited self-experimentation.
“This tradition may not always have been prudent, but by testing substances or procedures on themselves before experimenting with appreciable numbers of human subjects, doctors symbolically conveyed their belief that the measures were not inordinately harmful and also signalled a researcher’s willingness to share the risks and glory of discovery”.
If I may be “provocative too” as was Dr. Jean. Could the Western Scientists largely form the experimental subjects for the very exercise they are coveting Africans?