Kenyan bishop: Poor could be exploited in COVID vaccine trials
Bishop James Wainaina of the Diocese of Murang’a. KENYA CATHOLIC MEDIA NETWORK
By Fr. Don Bosco Onyalla
Catholic News Agency
May 15, 2020
NAIROBI, KENYA— A Kenyan bishop said testing potential coronavirus vaccines on his countrymen could disrespect human dignity, and amount to a breach of the country’s constitution, especially if Kenyans are not fully informed of the risks involved in testing new drugs.
“Whereas the Covid-19 pandemic is a grave matter at hand, it should not in any way be used to compromise the rights and dignity of the citizens” of Kenya, Bishop James Wainaina of the Diocese of Murang’a said May 7.
Because “vaccines or drugs may have side effects on the citizens, we must be convinced of the safety of the same and preservation of the citizens’ dignity.”
“Everything should be done with maximum openness, and testing should not be carried out on unsuspecting citizens,” he added.
The bishop’s statement came after Kenyan media reports that drugs and vaccines in development to treat COVID-19 could be tested in the country.
“The media has been awash with many messages and video clips talking about the intentions of foreign research agencies to come to Kenya to test some Coronavirus vaccines and drugs,” Wainaina said.
“This matter has left many Kenyans wondering whether the circulating information has been true or not.”
The bishop made particular reference to a May 5 report from Kenya’s highest circulation newspaper, Daily Nation, which claimed that “local researchers participating in an international study are seeking final approval from agencies to test three drugs on Kenyans.”
The bishop said that alleged testing plans are disrespectful to Kenyans and a possible indicator of opportunistic tendencies by foreign agencies to take advantage of the “poor” who are bribed into human subject research unethically.
“The ‘Glory of Kenya’ that we sing about in our national anthem implies that Kenyans deserve respect,” Bishop Wainaina observed.
“All of us must remain vigilant to the foreign insurgences, including research agencies that plan to come and lure poor Kenyans with money, and instill fear of the disease in order to get people to agree to undergo trials of such vaccines and drugs.”
“Poverty, it must be said, or sickness does not remove the dignity of a person. The dignity of the poor must nevertheless be protected,” he added.
Wainaina noted that Kenya’s constitution requires the opportunity for public participation in decisions concerning a matter as serious as human drug trials.
“The fact that this matter was circulating in the media and the Government failed to address it openly leaves the public with more questions than answers,” Bishop Wainaina noted in his May 7 statement.
According to the Daily Nation, the principal local investigator in the study, Dr. Loice Achieng Ombajo, said her team’s submissions have been approved by a government ethics committee, and are now awaiting final approval from two additional government oversight boards.
“If the two agencies of research mentioned in the Nation Newspaper have already obtained initial approvals, it would be important for our Government to tell Kenyans how they got the approvals,” the bishop said.
“In the spirit of our Constitution, was there any public participation or approval by Parliament?”
The bishop urged “authorities to take the necessary steps, even to deny such agencies entry into our country to carry out trials of vaccines and drugs until the safety of Kenyans and their dignity are guaranteed.”
He pleaded with Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta “not to allow any medical practice, whether by local or foreign agencies, that would compromise the dignity of Kenyan citizens.”
As of May 14, Kenya had recorded 758 cases of COVID-19, including 284recoveries and 42 deaths. There are at least 76,000 confirmed cases across Africa, while at least 4.5 million have been infected globally.
“Kenya is not the worst hit country in Africa and in the world,” the bishop noted.
“One is left wondering about the wisdom of choosing Kenya as the testing ground for the vaccines and drugs.”