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Friday, September 4, 2015

How African Parliaments Bring Scientists to their Knees

By Esther Nakkazi

When they are not moving abroad in search of better renumeration and they stay put at home, Africa’s scientists are humiliated by people who are clueless about science.

The typical African scientist is characterised with low pay, working in a bad environment with poor research infrastructure and unavailable long-term benefits or opportunities for promotion.

And now increasingly, Parliaments seem to take pleasure in humiliating scientists for stating facts. I was in Ghana recently and was amused by the story of Professor Alex Dodoo.

On 24th July, the Privileges Committee in the Ghana Parliament pardoned and discharged Professor Alex Dodoo, a Pharmacologist and Lecturer at the School of Medicine and Dentistry of the University of Ghana.

Apparently, Doodo made ‘over contemptuous’ comments describing Members of Parliament as ignorant of the Ebola vaccine trial, which has since been suspended. He was accused of compromising the integrity and sanctity of Parliament.

Dodoo also the Chairman of the Global Vaccine Safety Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) made two apologies (which I think were not necessary). One was through his lawyer Yoni Kulendi who made an ‘unreserved, unconditional and irrevocable’ apology on his behalf. Then Dodoo himself made a second apology alongside other witnesses saying he will never again disrespect the great institution of Parliament or its members.

The issue began with clinical trials for the Ebola vaccine that were due to take place in the Volta region but there was limited education to the communities or what you can refer to as ‘failure to carry the community along’.

A parliament and public outcry prompted the Minister of Health to suspend the trials indefinitely. At the time Ghanian Parliament debated the issue, MPs asked if the vaccine had first been tried on ‘mice, rabbits or chimpanzees’ and why were the trials not conducted in countries were Ebola was prevalent, namely Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. We all know vaccines have to first be tested in animals, right!

One MP, loudly expressed the fact that God had already protected Ghana from the deadly Ebola, but now scientists wanted to channel it back through a vaccine. Another one described the compensation to study participants of 200 cedis and a mobile phone for volunteers as ‘silly’.

Doodo, a vocal and press friendly scientist took to the airwaves and described the MPs as ‘ignorant’ by the remarks they made about the Ebola Vaccine Trial. He also described the questions the MPs were asking as “elementary” which were embarrassing and lamented that the cancelation of the trials was indeed so sad for science.

Now we all know that vaccines have to first be tried in animals before progressing to humans. We also know that vaccines do not cause disease except (when its weakened form is used) but these do not make people sick. 

Lastly, compensation is not payment. People take part in clinical trials for altruism or for many other personal reasons but voluntarily and the rewards have to be such that they are not just coerced.
For saying the truth the guy had to make two apologies and with such a precedent there probably may never be any vaccine trials happening in Ghana, Umh!
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