Some Kenyan Catholic bishops urge caution on COVID-19 clinical trials

Some Kenyan Catholic bishops urge caution on COVID-19 clinical trials

A young girl reacts as a Kenyan medical worker takes a swab in Nairobi May 2, 2020, during mass tasting to help fight the spread of COVID-19. (Credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters via CNS.)

In a global race to find a cure for COVID-19, Kenya has joined World Health Organization’s Solidarity Trial. But some Catholic bishops in the East African nation are urging caution, calling on scientists to strictly follow safety procedures and standards to ensure the ordinary people do not become “guinea pigs.”

NAIROBI, Kenya — In a global race to find a cure for COVID-19, Kenya has joined World Health Organization’s Solidarity Trial.

But some Catholic bishops in the East African nation are urging caution, calling on scientists to strictly follow safety procedures and standards to ensure the ordinary people do not become “guinea pigs.”

“I do not support human trials for the drugs and vaccine at the moment. They should start with animals and, when it is known they work, then the drugs can be administered on humans,” Bishop Joseph Ndembu Mbatia, chairman of the health commission of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service.

By May 6, Kenya had confirmed 535 COVID-19 cases, with most of them being in low-income areas in Nairobi and Mombasa.

Kenyan scientists will join international researchers in the Solidarity Trial to determine if certain antiretroviral and antimalarial drugs could be used to treat the disease.

“We know there is a rush to find a cure for the COVID-19,” said Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Eldoret. He acknowledged the urgency, but added that tests must ensure “no one is used as a guinea pig.”

He said trials must follow international standards and “must be applied to all people and all parts of the world.”

Medical officials from the government have sought to assure the citizens that no one will be coerced to participate in the trials.

“I know clinical trials have a bad name, but believe me, every drug that we use is availed to us because a clinical trial was done,” Dr. Loice Ombajo, principal investigator in the Kenyan trials, told the Daily Nation.

In April, comments by two French scientists that Africa should be the testing ground for COVID-19 treatment triggered a storm, with religious leaders and groups expressing shock and dismay.

In a reaction, the All Africa Conference of Churches said the remarks created an image of Africa as the source and target of all troubles and problems and demeaned African dignity.

“Suggesting the trials can only be carried on Africans is to use the people in a way that is wrong,” said Mbatia.

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