Coronavirus Latest: Brazil’s Covid inquiry hears patients were unaware of role as ‘guinea pigs’ in medicines study

Patients of a private healthcare provider in Brazil were unaware they would be “guinea pigs” in a study into medicines including hydroxychloroquine with no proven effectiveness against Covid-19, a parliamentary inquiry has heard.

A lawyer for a dozen whistleblowers, who worked at the medical group Prevent Senior, also told senators in Brasília on Tuesday that doctors there risked being fired if they refused to prescribe the combination of drugs to people with the respiratory disease.

The accusations were delivered during hours of testimony to a congressional probe examining Brazil’s response to the coronavirus crisis, which has claimed almost 600,000 lives in Latin America’s most populous nation.

Lawmakers on the committee are now focusing on Prevent Senior, after receiving a dossier containing evidence of supposed wrongdoing in its experimental use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine together with azithromycin, an antibiotic, in Covid-19 cases.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, has promoted the use of such medication as a form of “early treatment” against the respiratory disease, despite an absence of clinical proof.

The complaints against Prevent Senior include data manipulation, lack of transparency and the concealment of deaths of patients who participated in the study, according to the Senate’s website. It added that there were nine deaths during the study, but the authors only mentioned two.

Prevent Senior has strenuously denied all the allegations. “These are unfounded accusations, based on messages that are truncated or edited and leaked to the press and will be dismantled throughout the investigations,” it said.

Bruna Morato, the lawyer representing the 12 physicians who worked at the company, said on Tuesday that the alleged practices showed a “lack of respect for people’s lives”.

She claimed that the deployment of the so-called ‘Covid kit’ of medicines within the healthcare group was intended to prevent hospitalisation of patients and thereby save on costs.

Public prosecutors in Sao Paulo have created a task force to look into the allegations.

The parliamentary inquiry is expected to deliver a final report in the coming weeks that could include recommendations of criminal charges against Bolsonaro for his conduct during the public health crisis. The rightwinger has disparaged the use of masks, opposed lockdowns and talked down the importance of vaccines.

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