Bolsonaro chooses Brazil’s fourth health minister as COVID rages

SAO PAULO (AP) – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro elected his fourth health minister since the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, amid the worst agony of the disease in the country to date and after a series of errors reported by public health experts.

Marcelo Queiroga, president of the Brazilian Society of Cardiology, will replace Eduardo Pazuello, an active duty army general with experience in logistics who obtained the position last May despite having no prior health experience.

Early Monday, Pazuello acknowledged in a press conference that Bolsonaro was aiming to replace him. The first candidate for the post, cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar, turned it down.

Pazuello’s departure means ushering in Brazil’s fourth health minister during the pandemic, though he has presided over the ministry for the longest period of the three to date. The revolving door points out the challenges for the government of Latin America’s largest nation to implement effective measures to control the spread of the virus, or even agree on what measures are necessary.

Pazuello’s two predecessors left office amid disagreements with Bolsonaro, who criticized wide social distancing and supported the use of an unproven antimalarial drug to treat the disease. He continues to hold those positions, despite warnings from health experts and studies showing the drug has no effect on COVID-19.

Pazuello proved to be more docile. Immediately after taking the job, his ministry endorsed the use and distribution of the malaria pill. On several occasions, he said that his boss tells him what to do and he obeys.

“The conversation (with Queiroga) was excellent. I had already known him for a few years. He has everything he needs to do a good job, continuing with what Pazuello has done to this day, “Bolsonaro told supporters at the entrance to the presidential residence in Brasilia, adding that there will be a transition period of up to two weeks with the exit and the exit. incoming minister.

“Pazuello’s job was well done in the managerial part. Now we are in a more aggressive phase in the fight against the virus, ”said the president of Brazil.

Brazil has recorded nearly 280,000 deaths from the virus, almost all under its supervision. The death toll has been getting worse lately, and the nation currently averages more than 1,800 deaths per day. Health systems in major cities are on the brink of collapse, and lawmakers allied with Bolsonaro have proposed suitable replacements for Pazuello, while threatening to increase pressure for an investigation into his handling of the crisis.

The country’s highest court is also investigating Pazuello for alleged negligence that contributed to the collapse of the health system in Amazonas state earlier this year. That investigation will now be sent to a trial judge.

Weeks later, in a particularly embarrassing episode, his ministry accidentally sent a shipment of vaccines destined for the state of Amazonas to the neighboring state of Amapa, and vice versa, after confusing the abbreviations for each state.

Finally, Pazuello has faced intense criticism for the slow launch of the vaccine in Brazil. According to Our World in Data, an online research site that compares official government statistics, only 5.4% of Brazilians have been vaccinated. Almost all were shots from the Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac, which Bolsonaro repeatedly questioned.

Pazuello’s Health Ministry also delayed its decision to buy the vaccine from the São Paulo state government until it had no other option to begin immunization in January.

The only vaccine agreement Pazuello had signed at the time, for 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, has brought few shots into the arms of Brazilians so far. Since then, his ministry has been quick to cobble together deals with other suppliers, and recently concluded deals to acquire the Pfizer and Sputnik V intakes.

Pazuello said at a press conference that he will not resign and insisted that there will be continuity with whoever takes office.

Cardiologist Hajjar had already revealed that Bolsonaro interviewed her to replace Pazuello. She told the Globo News television channel that science has already spoken out against the treatments that Bolsonaro and his legions of followers continue to advocate, such as drugs to combat malaria and parasites, and that the country needs to adopt more restrictive measures on activity. She said she turned down the position.

“He needs to choose someone he trusts, who is aligned with him, his ideas, his vision and the government’s desire. And I’m certainly not that person, ”he said.

Hajjar predicts between 500,000 and 600,000 total deaths, not to mention the long-term consequences, unless Brazil changes course.

Queiroga has already called Bolsonaro “a great Brazilian.” His social media channels have not criticized the president’s handling of the pandemic and have lobbied for the vaccine to be quickly implemented.


AP journalist David Biller contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.


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