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Bolivian senate passes bill approving controversial COVID-19 treatment

Bolivia's Senate last Tuesday, July 14 approved a law permitting the production and use of chlorine dioxide to "prevent and treat the coronavirus."

Chlorine dioxide is a bleach-like substance various health authorities including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said is "dangerous" and has made people sick when ingested. On Tuesday, July 21, however, a long queue of people was seen outside a pharmacy in Cochabamba, Bolivia, many of whom were there to purchase chlorine dioxide solution.

The bill approved by Bolivia's Senate must still pass the lower chamber and survive a veto challenge before it becomes law, but the legislation is on track to continue to moving forward as both chambers are controlled by the MAS (Movement to Socialism) political party and Bolivia's president has only partial veto powers.

Bolivia's health ministry, however, has been vocal in its opposition to the substance, releasing a statement in June saying chlorine dioxide poses a "grave health risk" to those who consume it. Furthermore, Dr. Rene Sahonero, an official at Bolivia's health ministry, told Reuters on Tuesday that chlorine dioxide is "not appropriate for human consumption," and that it remained prohibited as a treatment.

Nevertheless, local residents lining up at the Cochabamba pharmacy seemed skeptical of the expert advise. "The authorities always say: you should consult a doctor. What doctor? The poor don't have doctors," said local resident Dionisio Flores who had just purchased a bottle of the substance.

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