BRASILIA, Sept. 28 (Reuters) – A Brazilian hospital chain has tested unproven drugs on elderly patients with COVID-19 without their knowledge as part of an effort to validate President Jair Bolsonaro’s favorite ‘miracle cure’ a medical whistleblower lawyer told senators on Tuesday.
At least nine people have died from COVID-19 during trials by the Prevent Senior hospital chain from March to April 2020, but their records have been altered to hide the cause of death, lawyer Bruna Morato said during an investigation of the Senate.
Prevent Senior dismissed the charges as unfounded and said he had “rigorously reported” all the deaths. He added in a statement that 7% of the 56,000 COVID-19 patients he treated had died, a better toll than other public and private hospitals.
Pedro Batista, owner and executive director of the hospital chain, admitted in his testimony to the Senate investigation last week that patient records had been amended to remove any reference to COVID-19 after being hospitalized for two weeks, claiming that they were no longer a risk of contagion.
He denied testing unproven drugs on patients without their knowledge, saying doctors prescribed them when patients requested.
“It is the doctor who prescribes any drug and, at the time, everyone remembers the comments of (President Bolsonaro) and other influential people, so there were a lot of patients demanding prescriptions” Batista told senators.
On Tuesday, Morato, representing 12 doctors employed at Prevent Senior, said the company threatened and fired doctors who disagreed with a predetermined “COVID kit” that included hydroxychloroquine, erythromycin and ivermectin. There is no scientific evidence that these drugs are beneficial in the treatment of COVID-19.
“Highly vulnerable elderly patients were told there was good treatment, but they didn’t know they were being used as guinea pigs,” Morato, the whistleblower’s attorney, told senators investigating the management by the Brazil from the coronavirus pandemic.
She said doctors were ordered not to explain the treatment to patients or their relatives.
“The aim was to show that there was an effective treatment for COVID-19,” Morato said.
She said the hospital had an agreement to help Bolsonaro’s government, which touted the unproven drugs as an effective treatment for the virus that would protect Brazilians from contagion if they returned to work.
Prevent Senior denied ever firing doctors who disagreed with the treatment and asked why the lawyer had not named the anonymous accusers.
The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment. It is not clear what the government knew about the alleged trials.
In a speech last week at the United Nations, Bolsonaro again praised the “early treatment” of COVID-19 through the off-label use of unspecified drugs, saying science would one day justify their use against the coronavirus.
The pandemic killed nearly 600,000 Brazilians in the world’s second deadliest epidemic outside the United States.
Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates
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