Science professors, Jean-Paul Mira of Cochin Hospital in Paris and Camille Locht of Inserm, France's national medical research centre, appeared on French television LCI on April 2 to debate potentials for COVID-19 cures.
Mr Mira wondered if he "may be provocative, should this study not be done in Africa?" Mr Locht then replied: "You are right. We are currently thinking similarly about a study in Africa regarding the BCG vaccine. There is a proposal that has gone out -- or will. We will seriously consider it."
Their statement elicited immediate backlash on social media, with top sports celebrities like Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto'o describing it as unbelievably shocking and provocative.
It is totally inconceivable we keep on cautioning this.Africa isn't a testing lab.I would like to vividly denounce those demeaning, false and most of all deeply racists words.
Helps us save Africa with the current ongoing Covid 19 and flatten the curve. pic.twitter.com/41GIpXaIYv
- Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) April 2, 2020
Following the outrage, the scientists apologised for their comments and said they had only suggested that Africa should be added to an ongoing trial of a vaccine in Europe and Australia.
They argued that Africa might be a better place to get a more accurate result for the tests because, unlike Europe and Australia, there was no widespread use of protective gears on the continent.
Reacting further to the scientists' comments at a press briefing on Monday, Mr Ghebreyesus described such suggestions as a hangover from the "colonial mentality."
"Africa cannot and will not be a testing ground for any vaccine," the WHO chief from Ethiopia said. "We will follow all the rules to test any vaccine or therapeutics all over the world using exactly the same rule ... whether it is in Europe, Africa or wherever."
He further lampooned the statement as "a disgrace actually, appalling to hear during the 21st century from scientists, that kind of remark."
He said "proper protocols will be followed and human beings will be treated as human beings because we are all human beings" in the course of testing any potential vaccine against the coronavirus pandemic.