Brazilâ€™s health ministry on Wednesday recommended the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to treat even mild cases of COVID-19, a treatment President Jair Bolsonaro has pushed for despite a lack of conclusive evidence of their effectiveness.
New federal guidelines released by the ministry recommend doctors prescribe the anti-malarial drugs from the onset of symptoms of coronavirus infection, together with the antibiotic azithromycin.
Patients will be required to sign a waiver acknowledging they have been informed of potential side effects, including heart and liver problems and retina damage.
The two medications have been swept up in a politically charged debate amid the pandemic.
Bolsonaro and his US counterpart Donald Trump, to whom he is often compared, tout them as potential wonder drugs against COVID-19.
Trump even revealed Monday he has been taking hydroxychloroquine daily as a preventive measure.
But some studies have cast doubt on the drugsâ€™ effectiveness and safety against coronavirus.
The health ministry acknowledged that â€œthere are still no meta-analyses of randomized, controlled, blind, large-scale clinical trials of these medications in the treatment of COVID-19.â€
However, it said the government had a responsibility to issue guidelines using the information currently available.
Preliminary studies of the drugs in China and France showed promising results against COVID-19.
However, other studies have cast doubt on their effectiveness and raised concerns about the potential for heart, liver and kidney problems, as well as nerve damage.
Brazilâ€™s former health minister Nelson Teich resigned last week after less than a month on the job, reportedly after clashing with Bolsonaro over the far-right presidentâ€™s insistence on recommending chloroquine against COVID-19.
Bolsonaro, who has compared the new coronavirus to a â€œlittle fluâ€ and railed against social distancing measures to fight it, fired Teichâ€™s predecessor, Luiz Henrique Mandetta, also after clashing over how to respond to the pandemic.
Brazil has emerged as the latest flashpoint in the coronavirus pandemic.
It registered more than 1,000 COVID-19 deaths Tuesday, its highest yet, bringing its total death toll to 17,971.
The country now has the third-highest number of infections in the world, with more than 270,000, behind only the United States and Russia.