Dakar (AFP)

While the scientific community is engaged in a time trial to develop treatments against the new coronavirus, in Africa distrust of Western vaccines is displayed on social networks, drawing on the memories of the medical scandals that have marked the history of the continent.

A logo showing a syringe in a red circle crossed out with the slogan "no vaccine test in Africa", a drawing of a black woman brandishing a machete under the throat of a white doctor with a syringe, hashtags #nonauvaccinenafrique , #pasdetestdevaccinenafrique, #lAfriquenestpasunlaboratoire, #jenesuispasuncobaye ...

For several weeks, African social networks have been teeming with publications warning against "poisoned" vaccines that are secretly tested or injected on the continent.

In early April, viral publications in West Africa claimed that seven children had died in Senegal after receiving "the Bill Gates vaccine". An AFP audit showed that this rumor originated from ... a joke from a cosmetic merchant in the suburbs of Dakar.

In another video shared tens of thousands of times in Côte d'Ivoire, also verified by AFP, a woman posing as a nurse said that the screening centers would be used to vaccinate the population without her knowing it by nasal.

However, there is no vaccine against the coronavirus. If a hundred projects are currently carried out around the world, including ten in the clinical trials phase, none should be completed before several months.

- "Racist and condescending" -

These false claims received a very special response after a discussion between two doctors on April 1 on French television, which aroused indignation in many countries.

Evoking the interest of testing the BCG anti-tuberculosis vaccine against the coronavirus, one of them asked in particular if "we could not do these tests in Africa, where there are no masks, no treatments , no resuscitation ".

After some countries in Europe and Australia, South Africa launched similar tests on Monday, conducted on 500 caregivers.

The African continent is for the moment one of the least severely affected by the pandemic, with 2,007 deaths for 51,569 cases officially listed on May 7, according to a count made by AFP from official data.

"There is a long history of mistrust of vaccines in Africa," said Keymanthri Moodley, director of the Center for Ethics and Law of Medicine at the University of Stellenbosch (South Africa), highlighting "the huge impact "of this television sequence.

"These people are making important announcements, as if we had no say. It is as if we are going back to colonial times. Personally, I find this racist and condescending," the AFP told AFP. former Kenyan Minister of Justice, Martha Karua.

The World Health Organization (WHO), regularly questioned in these publications where it is accused of being the armed wing of the Western powers and the pharmaceutical industry, assures that Africa is not a field of 'hazardous experiments.

"I really want to reassure people that the clinical trials currently underway on the continent respect international standards and follow the same protocols as in other developed countries," said the head of the immunization and development program. vaccines for WHO in Africa, Richard Mihigo.

- "Doctor-The-Death" -

But these statements have brought back memories of medical scandals that have marked the continent until recent history.

In apartheid South Africa, the sinister "Doctor-The-Death" Wouter Basson, who directed the government's chemical and biological weapons program in the 1980s and early 1990s, had thus worked on a project - which did not succeed - of sterilization of black women by substances which had to be injected by the vaccines.

In Nigeria, at the turn of the 2000s, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer paid $ 75 million in exchange for the cessation of legal proceedings after charges of trying a drug against meningitis without knowing it of the population in 1996.

The American firm claims to have obtained the verbal agreement of the families, which the latter deny that the drug, Trovan, is responsible for the deaths of at least eleven children and physiological damage for 189 others.

The revelations of several cases of fraudulent anti-HIV drugs across the continent have also "fueled strong resentment against politicians and some scientists," said Keymanthri Moodley.

- Local solutions -

"Rather than dispel these fears by calling them" false rumors "or" false knowledge ", they should be listened to and recognized," said Sara Cooper, a researcher at the South African Medical Research Council.

According to her, research carried out by African scientists rather than foreign programs "could help rebuild collective trust and reduce opposition".

Local anti-coronavirus remedies based on plants from the traditional pharmacopoeia are very successful, even if their effectiveness has not been scientifically proven, like the herbal tea made with artemisia launched in late April by the Madagascan president Andry Rajoelina.

But history has also shown the usefulness of vaccines, tempers Richard Mihigo: "People know that epidemics happen when there is no immunization. We saw it with measles. They participate massively in campaigns they know the benefits. "

burs-cmb / sva / stb

© 2020 AFP