Covid-19 in Brazil: three questions on the scandal of hospitals that administered hydroxychloroquine to “guinea pig” patients

“One of the greatest barbarities in the history of Brazilian medicine.” This is how the Brazilian weekly Istoe describes the politico-sanitary scandal that has shaken Brazil for a month. Mid-September, the continuous news channel Globonews (article in Portuguese) revealed that Prevent Senior, both a hospital group and a Brazilian mutual insurance service, has launched a “study” to test the efficacy, on patients, of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in treatments against Covid-19. Problem: the group initiated the study without the consent of the patients or their relatives.

A total of nine “guinea pig” patients died during the research, but the study authors only mentioned two deaths. New rebound on October 7, when doctors and patients are heard by the Senate Committee of Inquiry (CPI), bringing new revelations. For his part, Prevent Senior says in a press release that he has always acted “within the framework of ethical parameters”. Franceinfo takes stock of this scandal.

What does the Brazilian channel Globonews reveal?

It all started with a 10,000-page dossier submitted by 15 doctors to the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry of the Brazilian Senate (CPI), which is trying to lift the veil on the government’s management of the health crisis, and of which Globonews has broadcast extracts, tells International mail. We learn that these health professionals say they have been pressured by Prevent Senior to administer to patients with Covid-19 a “Covid kit”, composed of hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin and azithromycin, molecules which were however considered ineffective in treating the virus.

During a Senate hearing, three doctors, former employees of Prevent Senior, were heard. Among them, Souza Neto, who affirms “that between the end of March and April [2020], [Prevent Senior] instituted a protocol to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to patients. There was no autonomy for the doctor, it was compulsory “, report the American agency Associated Press in a long article (in English).

Above all, these health professionals were instructed not to warn the patient or the family. The Brazilian chain Globonews thus had access to private messages between the director of Prevent Senior and his subordinates. “We will start the hydroxychlorochine + azythromycin protocol”, warns the director Fernando Oikawa, who insists, in capital letters: “Please DO NOT INFORM THE PATIENT or THE FAMILY about the drug or the schedule.”

One of the doctors in the report claims that “the study” which was to be published by the hospital group was manipulated to demonstrate the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, while almost all scientific studies conclude that this drug does not treat Covid-19. According to him, the result was already ready, and this long before the conclusion of the Prevent Senior study, continues Globonews.

What is wrong with Prevent Senior, at heart turmoil?

Manager of ten hospitals in Sao Paulo, the Prevent Senior group also acts as a mutual service in Brazil. It offers care to the middle class who cannot afford superior quality care, reports the AP agency.

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The company is accused of having falsified the medical records of nine people who died during the study. In its investigation, the Globonews channel claims that the company has “made up his statistics” by removing the mention “Covid” death certificates for several patients hospitalized for more than two weeks. “Prevent Senior hid the deaths of Covid-19. And it was intentional. I have never seen anything of this magnitude”, indignant Dr. Gonzalo Vecina, one of the founders of the health regulatory body in Brazil, with AP.

For its part, the company denies “any wrongdoing, any irregularity in its facilities or the fact of having carried out unapproved tests”. The group has told the US agency AP that “all patients or their family members had given their consent before receiving treatment”. In mid-September, Prevent Senior also responded through its executive director, Pedro Batista Júnior, to Brazilian senators. He assured that the doctors “were free to make their own prescriptions for the treatment of Covid-19 and that patients had freely agreed to take their ‘Covid kits'”.

What is the Brazilian president doing in this affair?

Since mid-September, the case has made the headlines in Brazil, the weekly Istoe evoking a “laboratory of horrors”. On Twitter, Daniel Dourado, doctor, lawyer and researcher at the University of Sao Paulo, denounces “the biggest medical scandal in Brazilian history “. He also calls for an investigation, in particular on “the involvement of the Bolsonaro government”. Because beyond the actions of the group, the role of the Brazilian president in this scandal raises questions. The magazine Itsoe thus accuses the company of having, “in a pact with the government which recalls macabre experiences of the past, (…) flouted medical ethics “, report International mail.

In front of Brazilian parliamentarians, the lawyer of the group of caregivers whistleblowers, Bruna Morato, hammered that this “plan” has been “encouraged” by President Jair Bolsonaro, who rejects the isolation measures adopted by the governors of the various states of Brazil. As a reminder, the ineffective hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin are part of what Jair Bolsonaro calls the “early treatment” of Covid-19, which he again defended, in September, at the United Nations General Assembly. He also reiterated that he had “not made the slightest mistake” in the management of the Covid-19 health crisis, which killed nearly 600,000 people in Brazil.

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