Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele said Tuesday he uses hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug touted by US President Donald Trump as a potential coronavirus cure, even though international health experts have questioned its efficacy and have warned of harmful side-effects.
“I use it as a prophylaxis. President Trump uses it as a prophylaxis. Most of the world’s leaders use it as a prophylaxis,” said Bukele during a press conference with US Ambassador to El Salvador Ronald Johnson to announce a US donation of 250 ventilators to the Central-American country.
“Sometimes what’s recommended to the people is something different than what’s recommended to the leaders, because I have been recommended to use hydroxychloroquine as a prophylaxis and the probability of this harming you is very low,” Bukele said as he displayed a bottle.
Bukele, 38, did not say how much he was taking or if the drug was prescribed by a doctor.
The World Health Organization temporarily halted studying hydroxychloroquine as a potential Covid-19 treatment on Monday due to safety concerns. The decision came after a publication in the medical journal The Lancet on Friday suggested that seriously ill Covid-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were more likely to die.
Following recommendations from the WHO, Bukele said the drug was no longer part of El Salvador’s coronavirus treatment protocol, but that it would remain available for “those who wish to use it as prophylaxis” or by a doctor’s prescription.
El Salvador has 2,109 confirmed cases of the virus and 37 deaths, according to the latest data from John Hopkins University.
Bukele, who took office in June, has received mixed reviews for his coronavirus response. In March he took the dramatic step of closing his country’s border even before El Salvador reported a single case of coronavirus, arguing that the small Central American nation had to get ahead of the outbreak.
He ordered the military to arrest people violating the new measures, sending thousands to government “quarantine centers.” When the Supreme Court ruled the arrests were unconstitutional and ordered him to stop, Bukele refused and the soldiers remained on the streets.
He has more recently sparred with the Supreme Court and National Assembly about how soon El Salvador will reopen.