Brazil Senate pandemic investigation bogs down in chloroquine debate

Brasilia, May 25 (EFE).- The Senate commission investigating the management of the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil on Tuesday entered into a heated discussion about the drug chloroquine, promoted by the Jair Bolsonaro administration as a treatment for Covid-19 and strongly touted as such by a Health Ministry official.

The parliamentary group, which is trying to determine whether the government bears any responsibility for the worsening of the Covid-19 crisis, which has killed at least 450,000 people in the South American giant so far, heard testimony from the Health Ministry’s secretary for labor and education, Mayra Pinheiro, one of the government officials promoting the use of the anti-malaria drug for treating or warding off Covid-19, a use that is considered doubtful, if not outright harmful, by many experts.

The official, known as the “chloroquine captain” for her firm defense of the product, insisted on the efficacy of chloroquine in her remarks despite the fact that the scientific community has not certified it for use against Covid-19, comments that sparked heated political debate among the commission members.

Opposition lawmakers, comprising seven of the 11 commission members, insisted on blaming Bolsonaro for the inclusion of chloroquine and other “remedies” of doubtful efficacy in the so-called “early treatment” of Covid, although use of the drug has not prevented the pandemic from spiraling out of control into a deadly third wave besetting the country.

The government-supporting lawmakers, meanwhile, reiterated the argument that doctors should be free to prescribe medicines that can “save lives,” above all when they are faced with a “new and unknown disease.”

That position was emphasized by Pinheiro, who – without citing them – said that “hundreds” of scientific studies attest to the effectiveness of chloroquine in reducing the virulence of Covid-19, although she added that these studies have been “criminalized” by “political” opinions within the academic community.

In addition, she claimed that the studies conducted by the World Health Organization and other global institutions on chloroquine, which have not proven its efficacy, “are of questionable methodological quality” and thus Brazilian authorities have no “obligation” to take them as valid.

Pinheiro went on to say that – in a document bearing her signature sent in January to Amazonas state authorities amid a spike in Covid deaths the – the Health Ministry said that it was “unacceptable” that “early treatment” meds were not being used in the public health network.

However, she acknowledged the failure of a test performed in April 2020 with 81 Brazilian Covid-19 patients to whom chloroquine was administered, 22 of whom died of cardiac problems reportedly made more acute by the drug.

Even so, she said that the cause of those deaths was the “high doses” of chloroquine administered, adding that the “correct” amount of the drug that should be given to Covid patients was later determined.

The aim of the commission is to clarify whether or not the government, with its insistence on chloroquine as a Covid treatment, contributed to worsening the situation and if its use was financed in an unwarranted way with public funds by ordering the massive manufacture and even the importation of the anti-malaria med.

According to official figures, at the decision of the Bolsonaro government, the Brazilian army laboratory last year manufactured 3.2 million chloroquine tablets, thereby multiplying the annual production of the drug at the time tenfold.


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