“There is still no scientific evidence, but …”

That sentence sums up President Jair Bolsonaro’s way of fighting the worst pandemic in living memory. Ever since Covid-19 reached Brazil in February, the right-wing leader has stood against social isolation — saying the economy is more important than lives — and says that antimalarial drug chloroquine is the Holy Grail against the virus.

However, as the leader admitted himself, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to attest to the efficacy of chloroquine in fighting Covid-19. During the week, several renowned Brazilian medical associations and institutions advised against the use of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, or their combination with azithromycin for treatment of Covid-19. 

The Brazilian Association of Intensive Care Medicine, the Brazilian Infectious Disease Society, and the Brazilian Pneumology and Tisiology Society reached a consensus over the issue, after a petition led by three of Brazil’s leading hospitals: Alemão Oswaldo Cruz and Sírio-Libanês (São Paulo) and Moinhos de Vento (Porto Alegre). 

Because of Mr. Bolsonaro’s recommendations, for example, the sale of the drug increased 107.47 percent in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, which worries the Regional Pharmacy Council (CRF). Brazil’s health regulatory agency Anvisa says the demand for chloroquine jumped 55 percent in May, compared to the same month in 2019.

Besides weak evidence, discussions over the antimalarial drug are heavily politicized, being backed not just by the President but also his most radical supporters. Nelson Teich, who recently resigned from the Health Ministry, was also attacked by Mr. Bolsonaro’s followers for not recommending the use of chloroquine to treat Covid-19.

Now, the next appointment to the head of the Health Ministry will certainly be someone who is in favor of chloroquine — that is, someone who is submissive to the president’s requests.