Brazil widens use of malaria drugs to treat mild coronavirus cases

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s Health Ministry on Wednesday issued new guidelines for wider use of anti-malarial drugs for mild coronavirus cases, a treatment touted by President Jair Bolsonaro in defiance of public health experts warning of possible health risks.

Interim Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, an active duty army general, authorized the new guidelines after two trained doctors left the ministry’s top job under pressure to promote early use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

Medical experts warn that studies have not confirmed the effectiveness of the drugs in treating the novel coronavirus, including Marcos Espinal, director for communicable diseases at the Pan American Health Organization.

“Our recommendations are crystal clear that they should not be used yet and in fact studies are suggesting a higher rate of secondary effects and cardiological problems in people who use it,” Espinal told journalists in a Tuesday briefing.

Bolsonaro has pushed the drugs’ potential along with his ideological ally U.S. President Donald Trump, who said this week he was taking hydroxychloroquine preventively despite a warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Brazil’s federal guidelines had previously cited the drugs only as an unproven treatment for severe cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The new guidelines suggest dosage for the anti-malarials along with the antibiotic azithromycin at the first onset of symptoms. Patients will have to sign a waiver recognizing potential side effects caused by the medicine.

Brazil’s evolving stance comes as Bolsonaro has also drawn criticism for playing down the seriousness of the pandemic and fighting against state governments’ social isolation orders.

Brazil’s daily death toll from the outbreak jumped to a record 1,179 on Tuesday, with more confirmed cases than any country but Russia and the United States.

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