Bolivians use chlorine dioxide against covid-19 despite risks 4:03
(CNN) - The United States and Brazil are not the only countries where political leaders seem to contradict the advice of medical experts.
In Bolivia, several lawmakers are struggling to recognize a toxic cleaning agent as a therapy against covid-19, even when health officials warn that it could be fatal.
In the city of Cochabamba, Dionisio Flores displayed two small plastic dropper bottles in his right palm and a larger bottle in his other hand, all of which he said contained chlorine dioxide, a substance similar to bleach that officials at Health officials say it is "highly toxic" and could be lethal, but that Flores bought to prevent or treat the coronavirus.
He is one of dozens of residents of the Andean city who line up in front of stores to buy the disinfectant for the treatment of coronavirus, defying the advice of health authorities.
"Authorities say you should consult your doctor," Flores told Reuters. “What a doctor, we never had a doctor! The poor do not have doctors. "
Chlorine dioxide is primarily used to disinfect drinking water supplies and has never been lawfully used or sold for use in or on the human body.
The Bolivian Ministry of Health says that it is not an effective treatment against coronavirus and has issued strong warnings against experimenting with it. On July 20, the ministry stated on social media that the dangerous effects of chlorine dioxide can include acute liver failure, life-threatening low blood pressure caused by dehydration, severe vomiting, and respiratory failure.
His warning has been echoed by health authorities around the world. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned against the use of chlorine dioxide for the coronavirus and says it "presents significant risks to the patient's health." And the Pan American Health Organization says that it does not recommend related products "in patients with suspected or diagnosed covid-19, or in any other case because there is no evidence on their efficacy and ingestion or inhalation of these products could cause serious adverse effects "
However, among those who promote its use is the mayor of Cochabamba, José María Leyes, who tested positive for the virus, and legislators from the main opposition party.
"I think it is necessary to try other medicinal alternatives, such as chlorine dioxide," Leyes said on July 10 on his official Twitter account. Despite abundant warnings, she insists that chlorine dioxide is safe if taken with caution.
The Bolivian Ministry of Health has threatened to prosecute those who promote the unscientific use of chlorine dioxide as a coronavirus treatment "with all the power of the law." But so far, it has not taken legal action against specific individuals or entities.Bolivians use chlorine dioxide against covid-19 despite risks 4:03
Approve an untested disinfectant
The promotion of chlorine dioxide has now gone beyond rhetoric in Bolivia: on July 14, the Bolivian Senate, controlled by the opposition Movement to Socialism party, approved a bill to approve the “supply and use of chlorine dioxide solution for the prevention and treatment of coronavirus ”.
The proposed law would authorize public and private laboratories to produce the chlorine dioxide solution "as long as there is a risk of contagion from the coronavirus," and provincial and municipal governments should "guarantee the supply of the chlorine dioxide solution in the system. public health, "said the statement. The law would also regulate trade and production of the substance, as some people have been buying chlorine dioxide on the black market, the statement said.
The opposition, which has a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, is now pushing the bill for a vote in the House. It is expected to happen there as well.
"It would be an alternative treatment," said Sergio Choque, leader of the Chamber of Deputies and member of the Movement for Socialism. "A treatment, but medically prescribed." However, the proposed bill says recipes are not necessary, but dosages must be indicated on each bottle.
Finally, the bill must be signed by Acting President Jeanine Áñez to become law, and she is likely to veto the law and comply with the guidance of the Ministry of Health.
But with elections scheduled for this year, and coronavirus infections and deaths rapidly increasing across the country, the pressure on Áñez and his cabinet to find new solutions to end the crisis is mounting. The Movement to Socialism, which is loyal to the ousted former president Evo Morales, has fiercely criticized the handling of the pandemic by the Áñez government.
The interim president's office did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed chlorine dioxide legislation.
She and more than a dozen government officials have already tested positive for coronavirus, although Áñez has since been given medical authorization to return to work.
The Bolivian government issued an official decree on Monday, declaring that the country was in a "state of public calamity" due to the economic impact of covid-19.The leaders who have had covid-19 0:52
Overwhelmed health system
Bolivia, a nation with one of the lowest GDPs in Latin America, is also one of the most affected by the pandemic with more than 72,000 coronavirus cases and more than 2,700 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
Among the 20 countries most affected by covid-19, Bolivia ranks seventh in deaths per capita, according to JHU.
Medical workers in La Paz.
The country's fragile health system has been overwhelmed by a sharp rise in infections in recent weeks. Several hospitals in the two largest cities, La Paz and El Alto, have reached capacity. Morgues and cemeteries have also been overwhelmed.
"Unfortunately, our covid hospitals in the city are full," La Paz Mayor Luis Revilla said in early July, calling for additional hospitals to intervene. Revilla announced Tuesday that he and his wife tested positive for covid-19 but are fine and with almost no symptoms.
In Cochabamba, volunteers are helping to collect bodies of victims and those who cannot afford to bury loved ones.
"We are all being affected. I have relatives in intensive care. We are trying to find a fan for my wife's grandfather to save her life, ”Luis Fernando Ortiz, a member of the“ Goodbye Brigades, ”volunteer teams that coordinate the collection of bodies with family members and the police and transportation, told Reuters to the nearest cemetery. "It is a catastrophic situation," he said.
Eric Ocana, another Cochabamba resident, said treatments like unproven chlorine dioxide give him some hope, and says he believes at least two people he knows are feeling better.
"They are doing perfectly," Ocana told Reuters, adding that "they have already gotten out of this problem."
MIRA : The double crisis in Cochabamba due to the coronavirus: hospitals and cemeteries
Beyond the chlorine dioxide bill, the coronavirus has made its mark on Bolivian politics, forcing a date change for its expected presidential elections.
The president of the Bolivian Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Salvador Romero, announced last week that the election would be postponed so that adequate security measures for the coronavirus could be implemented. The vote will now take place on October 18, with a possible second round on November 29.
It had been postponed since May.
Although the Bolivian National Scientific Committee had encouraged the postponement, former leader Morales, who is currently in Argentina but has remained politically active, criticized the announcement and accused the interim government of trying to "save more time."
"The postponement of the election date will only cause more suffering to the Bolivian people because it prolongs the agony of the government in a sea of incapacities and ambitions that prevented them, in eight months, from taking measures to manage the current human and economic catastrophe," he said. Morales in a series of tweets.
Morales, who resigned after the 2019 general election on ballot fraud allegations, maintains that he was forced to resign and promised to continue fighting from abroad.
READ : Government sues Evo Morales and other leaders for recent mobilizations in Bolivia
Áñez, a former senator, took over as interim president after the three people in front of her in the line of succession resigned in the wake of the mass protests following Morales' resignation.
In an election increasingly defined by the coronavirus crisis, Áñez faces several candidates, including two former presidents, Jorge Quiroga and Carlos Mesa, and the candidate for the Movement for Socialism, Luis Arce, backed by Morales.
"We are doing everything possible and taking the necessary measures to overcome the pandemic as soon as possible," Áñez tweeted on July 21. "If we work as a team, we will succeed."
Gloria Carrasco, Florencia Trucco and Abel Alvarado contributed to this report.