In his second testimony to Covid’s CPI in the Senate, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga changed his position in relation to hydroxychloroquine and stated on Tuesday (8) that the drug has no proven scientific efficacy for the treatment of Covid-19 , in a counterpoint to the actions of President Jair Bolsonaro since the beginning of the pandemic.
Focus of the commission, the Bolsonaro government spent public resources and mobilized the structure of the state to encourage the use of drugs without proven scientific efficacy against the coronavirus. These are medicines listed in a notice from the Ministry of Health for the so-called early treatment. Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate), chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin make up the “Covid kit”.
This Tuesday, Queiroga also refrained from commenting to the CPI on the president’s actions, by not wearing masks and promoting agglomerations, but expressed his dissatisfaction with this stance at times. He affirmed that he is not “a censor” of the head of the Executive and that the “images speak for themselves”.
Although he reinforced his autonomy to make decisions at the head of the ministry, Queiroga himself relativized this condition by stating that this does not mean “carte carte blanche to do whatever he wants”.
Queiroga testifies for the second time to Covid’s CPI. A month ago, when he sat on the commission’s bench for the first time, the health minister had stated that he would not take a stand on the effectiveness of drugs such as chloroquine.
He stated at the time that the appropriate instance to analyze this issue would be the Conitec (National Commission for the Incorporation of Technologies in the SUS), of which he is a part, which is drawing up a protocol.
“According to the decree-law that regulates Conitec, I am the final decision-making body. So, I may have to take a stand on this protocol, in such a way that I would like to keep my final stand on the merits of the protocol when the protocol is drafted,” he said during the May 6th session.
On Tuesday’s hearing, the minister was explicit in stating that, in his opinion, these drugs have no proven efficacy. “These medications have no proven efficacy. This subject is a matter of discussion at Conitec,” he said. “If I keep discussing last year’s discussion, I won’t go through with it.”
Queiroga also said that he considers this discussion “lateral” and that it “does not contribute” to fighting the pandemic. The minister stated that the discussions surrounding these drugs have caused great divisions among the medical profession and that his role at the head of the ministry is to “harmonize this context”.
“As a doctor, I understand that these discussions are lateral and do nothing to put an end to the pandemic character of this disease. What will put an end to the pandemic character of this disease is to expand the vaccination campaign”, he said.
The federal government spent R$126.5 million on these drugs to allocate them to infected people. 31 million pills were distributed to the states. Audit of the TCU (Court of Accounts of the Union) concluded that it is illegal to use funds from the SUS for the distribution of chloroquine to patients with Covid.
During the deposition, the minister also maintained a different posture when compared to his first participation. Queiroga was visibly more irritated and opposed the rapporteur, senator Renan Calheiros (MDB-AL) at various times, and even changed in a discussion with Otto Alencar (PSD-BA).
One of the main points explored by the senators was Queiroga’s autonomy as head of Health. The minister had said in the first hearing that he had complete freedom to appoint his assistants and to establish the public policies he thought best.
However, the testimony to the commission of the physician Luana Araújo (former extraordinary secretary for combating the pandemic) put this version in check.
Luana, who is critical of the use of hydroxychloroquine, reported last week to senators that he heard from Queiroga that he would not be appointed to the position because his “name would not pass the Civil House”.
Addressing the issue on Tuesday, the minister said that the decision not to name Luana was his own and that the doctor had been approved by the Government Secretariat and by the Civil House. “The Civil House approved her name,” he said.
“But in the meantime, Luana’s name, despite her technical qualification, began to suffer a lot of resistance, in view of the themes that are dealt with here, where there is a very large divergence in the medical profession, this is patent, divergence of physician group A, from physician group B,” he said.
“I understood that, at that moment, despite her qualification, her presence would not be important to contribute to the harmonization of this context. So, in a discretionary act of that minister, I decided not to carry out her appointment.”
Queiroga stated that Luana’s replacement will be appointed until next Friday (11).
The minister himself raised doubts about his autonomy when he stated that this “does not mean carte blanche” in the position.
“The president gave me autonomy to lead the Ministry of Health; this does not mean a free hand to do whatever you want, there is no such thing. The regime is presidential. So far, there hasn’t been any point that made me feel discredited in front of the Ministry of Health.”
Queiroga appeared irritated when asked about the actions of Bolsonaro, who promotes crowds and questions social distance and the use of the mask. In his first participation in the commission, a month ago, the minister only replied that he would not make a “judgment of value”.
This Tuesday, however, he let it be known that the subject bothered him and even let out direct criticism of the president. “The President of the Republic did not talk to me about his attitude. I am the Minister of Health. I am not a censor of the President of the Republic,” he stated.
Renan insisted on the question, questioning Queiroga if the president did not listen to the minister’s instructions. “But this is an individual act, senator. The images, they speak for themselves. I’m here as Minister of Health to help my country,” he said, annoyed.
Queiroga then said that, “in most cases”, the president wears a mask in the meeting between the two.
Afterwards, senators questioned the minister if he has been insisting with Bolsonaro that he comply with non-pharmacological measures to fight Covid, and Queiroga affirmed that he has.
“Perfectly. Right? The commitment is individual; the benefit is for all. I reiterate here to you. The doctor has an obligation of means, he has no obligation of results. And my means is my voice and I will use it. That doesn’t mean to say that I’m going to achieve, Senator Renan,” Queiroga continued.
The minister also stated that he “wants to succeed” and will work hard for this, indicating that it is a change in Bolsonaro’s behavior. Queiroga also stated that the Ministry of Health does not currently have infectious disease doctors on its staff.