Brazil has been dealing with one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in this hemisphere. As of August 15, there have been more than 107,000 deaths recorded in Brazil. In late April, Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was being promoted by the Brazilian government as a possible treatment for COVID-19 but Brazilians were hesitant.
Despite this official HCQ promotion, there was still much opposition within President Jair Bolsonaro’s government, (mainly from medical doctors and left-wing politicians) and also widespread disapproval of HCQ by organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization. In addition, the CDC in the United States also discredited the treatment as being dangerous and ineffective.
By May 20, less than 28% of Brazilians approved of the President’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic so it makes sense they wouldn’t embrace the treatment, though they could have; a huge amount of HCQ was donated to Brazil by the United States.
With all the negative publicity surrounding this controversial treatment, it is no wonder there was minimal use of the drug to combat COVID-19. In May and June, HCQ was purportedly only being given by doctors in hospitals to very ill patients as a last resort, even though advocates for HCQ said it had to be used in the early stages of COVID-19 to be effective.
In early July, President Bolsonaro announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be receiving the controversial HCQ treatment. On July 25, Bolsonaro went on national television to enthusiastically reveal he was Covid-free after taking HCQ. Every major media outlet in Brazil covered the broadcast as Bolsonaro proudly held up an HCQ pill and told Brazilians that this drug saved his life. What better way to convince Brazilians to finally accept HCQ as an effective treatment for COVID-19 than to show the real-life proof it works?
Bolsonaro’s openness was also in stark contrast to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who after his seven-day stint in intensive care due to Covid, refused to publicly provide details about his treatment.
The picture of President Bolsonaro smiling while holding HCQ is quite extraordinary. President Bolsonaro, like President Trump, is widely hated by the left-wing media of Brazil. When the Brazilian President touted a treatment recommended by President Trump, the left-wing media outlets in Brazil, (and for that matter the media of the world) denounced and ridiculed him.
If we look at the Brazilian cases and death statistics of COVID-19 starting around July 25, we can see that they were both very high. In fact, on July 29, Brazil recorded its highest death toll to date: 1,554. Assuming if one dies from COVID-19 it usually happens 18 to 23 days after symptoms first appear, we can align this assumption with the COVID-19 deaths in Brazil to track the true efficacy of widespread HCQ use. If Brazilians were finally convinced of the drug’s efficacy in late July following Bolsonaro’s television appearance, reductions in deaths due to taking the HCQ regimen should start to appear approximately in mid-August onward.
And what do you know? That’s exactly what seems to be happening. On August 16, 582 deaths were recorded in Brazil, about one third of the peak total on July 29.
As a related aside, the country of Costa Rica in early April decided to use HCQ both prophylactically and symptomatically to treat COVID-19. Costa Rica has done remarkably well, recording only 57 deaths per million, which is one of the lower mortality rates in the world.
It is a shame that the use of HCQ has become so highly politicized. This drug has been safely used for decades to thwart malaria worldwide with very few side effects. It has also been used for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis very successfully. Now, as we can see in the case of Brazil, it’s an effective way to combat COVID-19.
Suppressing a drug because of political considerations is not only immoral but also tantamount to condemning innocent people to a needless death.
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