July 22, 2020 / 12:45 AM / 14 days ago

Bolivians try chlorine dioxide for COVID-19, despite health ministry warnings

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivians desperate to avoid or cure COVID-19 are ingesting chlorine dioxide, which the senate has approved as a treatment even as the country’s health ministry says people should stay away from it.

A pharmacist holds a medicine containing chlorine dioxide at the Farmacia Boliviana, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cochabamba, Bolivia, July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Danilo Balderrama

Chlorine dioxide is a bleach-like substance that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers can jeopardize health and should not be purchased or drunk as a medical treatment.

But in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba - where the provincial government has approved its use - some shoppers said they believed the substance could help.

“I heard on the news that they were selling chlorine dioxide at the pharmacy. Acquaintances of mine took it, one for prevention and one for healing. It is doing them good,” said Eric Ocanha, outside of a pharmacy.

Others said they were confused about the advice they had been given.

“As always, the authorities say: ‘Consult your doctor.’ Which doctor? The poor do not have a doctor,” said Dionisio Flores.

Bolivia has confirmed 60,991 cases of the coronavirus nationwide, 2,218 of which have been fatal.

Dr. Rene Sahonero, an adviser to the health ministry, said the ministry strongly warned against the use of chlorine dioxide for COVID-19.

“We have already drawn up a resolution that says this substance is not approved, that it is not suitable for human consumption and that it can have serious consequences,” Sahonero said, adding that cases of chlorine dioxide poisoning had been reported.

Despite the ministry warning, the country’s senate passed a bill last week approving the use of chlorine dioxide to prevent and treat the coronavirus. That must pass the lower chamber and survive a veto challenge before it becomes law.

Reporting by Monica Machicao, Writing by Hugh Bronstein, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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