With over half a million followers on Twitter, with YouTube videos exceeding a million views, with his face on newspaper front pages, Professor Didier Raoult from the Marseille University Hospital, has become a popular, yet divisive figure in the French public debate. He is a hero for some, but a fraud for others.
Without the depth of the political divisions existing in the United States, there is also a politicization of the debates around Professor Raoult in France, and it did not help for dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, far from allowing the medical response to the crisis to progress, the public debate turned into a sterile confrontation focusing on personality. But there were also other elements at play, which we analyze in this brief article.
Professor Raoult runs a University Hospital Institute that employs more than 700 people and whose research on tropical diseases, infections and viruses is known worldwide. At the end of January, 182 French nationals repatriated from Wuhan (the heart of the epidemic in China) are placed in quarantine near Marseille. Professor Raoult’s team is thus the first in France (and probably in the West) to be able to test people, to study the coronavirus in vitro and then in vivo, to analyze the disease, to treat and monitor patients.