Healthcare Collaboration With America: Africa Facing Existential Threat, By Danny Domingo
…African countries are facing huge threats and challenges as the result of their fragile healthcare systems, insufficient public health prevention and control capacity. Some African countries would like to rely on Western countries such as the U.S., but the problem is that these Western powers always play cards of dominance over local functionalities, instead of real collaboration and mutual existence.
Due to budget constraints and priorities that do not reflect real needs of their healthcare systems, many African countries are pushed against the wall of surrendering the management of sensitive human health sector to Western countries, particularly the United States through health collaborations and bilateral agreements.
This has led to not only various ministries and health authorities lacking freedom to decide sensitive health issues of Africans but it also poses high risk on national security through jeopardising the health and lives of Africans in general. And this can generally be said it poses an existential threat of the whole African continent as it will be revealed later in this article.
Indeed, on the basis of history and autonomy of respective countries, I will not hesitate to say that this situation creates a continuing colonisation of the lives of Africans and accelerates dependence. It leaves many African countries and the lives of Africans controlled by these Western countries that historically have a bad record of ignoring rights and interests of Africans.
Interestingly, in this period when the world has been battling various pandemics spurred by viruses, chemicals but also the growing proliferation and glorification of biological weapons among nations, it is clear that for Western nations to actively involve in and control the healthcare systems and bio-safety industries, in general, among African countries, means the biggest security threat to the continent.
Indeed, amidst large-scale violations of global commitments and agreements on the regulation of chemical and biological weapons, the recent provocative behaviours of the Trump administration, which are observed through the violation of global norms, such as promoting unilateralism instead of multilateralism, but also the growing ill-founded actions that disregard global governing bodies, it is widely clear that the continuing human health related activities by the U.S. and its agencies within the African continent should be assessed and reconsidered.
Two factors add more to the possible risks. First is the demand for the testing ground of human vaccines and drugs but secondly with the growing biological welfare, there is also high demand for trials to determine the effectiveness of the created biological or even chemical weapons. Both vaccine and biological weapon trials need samples from human bodies consequently to determine their effectiveness; they have to be applied to humans.
In this sense, Western powers with a growing systematic mistreatment of people of African descent are likely to disregard the existing protective rules and scientific practices, when it comes to drug and vaccine trials. Therefore, it can strongly be argued that Africans may be subjected to violations and mistreatment in the name of trials and experimentations.
Although under normal rules scientists and human vaccines or medical researchers have been observing the obtaining of individual informed consent and the respect of rights in the conducting of experiments, especially in using human samples, recent events, in particular by a French scientist who publicly on a TV programme mentioned the necessity of using Africans in vaccine trials against COVID-19, have raised serious concerns.
What is even more concerning and alarming is that if these Western scientists can publicly mention the use of African samples in making vaccines and consequential experiments, what do they normally do in covert operations and activities? This is where there is a need for African countries and Africans to place strong protection on the human health sector against Western aggression and takeovers.
However, the sad fact is that despite all the posed risks, African countries still either ignore the security of their citizens or incautiously put trust in Western nations, especially the United States. Countries continue to open doors of cooperation in various areas, ranging from experimentation, extraction of gene sequences, sampling human parts and also surrendering crucial and sensitive medical and bio-safety information of Africans.
This is where the biggest problem lies. African governments continue to trust the United States and other Western nations by entrusting a sensitive health sector that directly touches human lives to them. But more alarmingly, some countries are allowing access to sensitive bio-safety data and also surrendering volumes of their health sector’s big data to the U.S.
The implication of this growing power of the United States to create a monopoly within the health sector and in the biological genomes is to establish absolute powers and freedom to do whatever it wants, regardless of the impact on Africa and the Africans.
The following examples from the two major African countries of Nigeria and South Africa illustrate the real picture clearer and it is an alarm to the rest of the continent that surrendering their health sectors and allowing the U.S. to navigate freely through these, poses higher risks.
In 1996, Pfizer conducted a drug trial in Kano, north of Nigeria during an epidemic of the bacterial infection, meningococcoal meningitis. The U.S. and New York based company tested an experimental antibiotic drug, trovafloxacin (Trovan). The report by BMJ shows that in order to test the efficacy of the new drug, Pfizer carried out an open trial on 200 children. Half of those children were given trovafloxacin and the remaining half, the gold standard treatment for meningitis, ceftriaxone. Eleven children died, five of whom were the children given trovafloxacin and six children who were given ceftriaxone. Pfizer said that 15,000 people died during the epidemic.
According to the report by the Human Rights Organisation, the catastrophe brought by Pfizer resulted to a group of Nigerian minors and their guardians suing the company in the U.S. federal court in 2001 under the Alien Tort Act (ATCA). They alleged Pfizer of violating the customary international law by administering Trovan to minors in Kano during the meningitis outbreak. The plaintiffs in Abdullahi v. Pfizer claim that the drug was given without the informed consent of the children and their parents. It was claimed further that the drug trial led to the deaths of 11 children and serious injuries to many others.
A second U.S. lawsuit with similar accusations was filed against Pfizer, Adamu v. Pfizer, in November 2002. However, despite the company (Pfizer) admitting that local ethics approval given to conduct the trial may not been properly documented and that it takes the issue very seriously and is fully cooperating with the Nigerian authorities, in a surprise ruling, both cases were dismissed in 2005 on the grounds of forum non conveniens and failure to state a claim under ATCA.
According to The Guardian report of August 12, 2011, a U.S. diplomatic cable uncovered by WikiLeaks revealed that Pfizer hired investigators to look for evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general in an effort to persuade him to drop the legal action. However later in 2011, Pfizer paid compensations to family of four children after a 15-year legal battle over the controversial drug trial in the State of Kano.
The case of Kano, Nigeria is not far different with the one in South Africa where reports also alleges the U.S. of violating protocols regarding bio-safety regulations and malpractices in handling human blood samples from South Africans. In 2003, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) with America started the Phidisa project. The project aims to provide treatment to eligible HIV-positive SANDF members and their families. According to report by the VoA on October 28, 2009, participation in this project is voluntary, but those who participate form part of the research project seeking to indentify the best treatment and management regimes for HIV and AIDS. However critics of the project allege the U.S. of conducting genomic test using South African blood samples without any notification and also South Africa’s NHLS database is considered to be accessible by the American CDC and USAID, which put into question the authority’s autonomy in executing its duties.
Similarly, in December 2010, U.S. signed a highly confidential document with South Africa. The document is described as the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (REPFAR). While the U.S describe this initiative as American leadership and generosity in saving millions of lives, reports on the African side show that the programme has been implemented at the expense of full commitments to multilateral programmes and it doesn’t really fund some key programmes, such as needle exchange, which is widely regarded as an effective in preventing the spread of HIV.
In concluding this article I reiterate that, African countries are facing huge threats and challenges as the result of their fragile healthcare systems, insufficient public health prevention and control capacity. Some African countries would like to rely on Western countries such as the U.S., but the problem is that these Western powers always play cards of dominance over local functionalities, instead of real collaboration and mutual existence.
With these elements of criminality and violation of international norms and growing unilateralism on issues of global interests, it is likely that the future for Africa is not preserved by the free offers of Western powers led by the U.S. In the name of healthcare collaboration, there are a lot unethical practices that not only jeopardise the future of the continent but portend the real dangers of an existential crisis.
Danny Domingo is an analyst of international relations focusing on relationships between Africa and Western countries.