Images showing injury to a patient's esophagus in Bolivia after consuming chlorine dioxide
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  • Bolivia's new health minister, Edgar Pozo, at a press conference Sunday said consuming toxic bleach chlorine dioxide as a COVID-19 treatment is now permitted.
  • It has no medical value and is potentially deadly if consumed, according to medical authorities including the FDA and WHO.
  • Despite this, a determined campaign by advocates of the substance, also called Miracle Mineral Solution, persuaded many to take it.
  • Business Insider previously reported how lawmakers in Bolivia embraced the substance despite warnings from the nation's own health ministry.
  • But last month the old government lost power, allowing the newly-installed Pozo to effectively overturn that advice.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Bolivia's new minister of health publicly endorsed consuming a type of toxic bleach to treat COVID-19, despite clear evidence of its dangers. 

The statement at the weekend by Edgar Pozo was part of a wave of change brought in by Bolivia's new government, which won a recent election after embracing the substance chlorine dioxide as a coronavirus treatment.

It was the latest victory in Bolivia for advocates of chlorine dioxide, also known as "Miracle Mineral Solution," who have found success in the South American nation while in other countries advocates have faced prosecution. 

The toxic substance has been falsely hailed by a sprawling alternative medicine movement as a miracle cure. Medical authorities including the US Food and Drugs Administration have warned that it is potentially lethal if consumed in large doses, and has no medical benefits. 

At a press conference on Sunday, Pozo described the use of the substance, chlorine dioxide, as "permissible."

Here is a video of the event, in Spanish:

Pozo told reporters: "[Chlorine Dioxide] is approved by law, that is to say that access to this alternative medicine is permissible, in a way with which our traditional medical unit is going to begin to produce a broader knowledge about its benefits, about its actions, about the therapeutic approach this substance has."

"We are beginning a process, we are beginning to listen to both medicines and it is our obligation to have to take serious steps, calmly, carefully."

He announced that the ministry would conduct a study into its use, as part of a review of indigenous treatments of the disease. 

Although presented in the language of science, Pozo's recommendation cuts across warnings from authorities including the World Health Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration.

The comments risk further fueling the popularity of the toxic substance in Bolivia. People there have seized on the bleach in the absence of widely available healthcare, activists have told Business Insider. 

According to local media reports, people across Bolivia have been hospitalised after taking the chlorine dioxide, which is more commonly used in the production of paper.

A front-line medic in September forwarded to Business Insider images of the internal injuries the substance caused to a patient who'd been hospitalised after consuming it. 

The embracing of the substance by a national government marks a new triumph for medical misinformation. Miracle Mineral Solution, or MMS, has long been hailed as cure for a range of illnesses by a global network of conspiracy theorists.

Pozo's comments are a dramatic reversal of the ministry's stance under the previous government, when it warned in June that the substance "puts the health of the population that consumes or intends to do so at serious risk," and said that its popularity was based on rumors and misinformation. 

Kate Centellas, an associate professor in sociology and anthropology at the University of Mississippi, told Business Insider that the newly-empowered MAS party had pledged support for traditional medicines as part of its election platform.

But she said that it was too soon to tell if Pozo was offering his unqualified support for legalizing chlorine dioxide. 

"Since chlorine dioxide was approved by the MAS senate, I suspect it is difficult to distance himself from it. I do sense some hedging on his part because he's not allowing it to be considered part of traditional medicine but as something distinct," she said of Sunday's press conference. 

The movement advocating MMS as a panacea for a range of illnesses originates in a fake Florida church, whose leader was recently arrested in Colombia for selling the substance.

The US Food and Drugs Administration, the World Health Organisation and Spain's leading medical regulator have all issued urgent warnings against consuming the substance. Last week, the Pan-American Health Organisation, in response to its surging popularity in Bolivia, warned in a tweet that the substance "is not a medication." 

Business insider has chronicled how a group of renegade medics, COMUSAV, and a German alternative medicine advocate, Andreas Kalcker, began to push the substance as a COVID-19 cure in Bolivia over the summer. The popularity of the substance spread as authorities struggled to cope with the pandemic. 

In what some experts characterised as a ploy to exploit anger at the previous government over its poor response to the pandemic, MAS pushed a bill through the Senate in August legalizing the bleach. 

The party has said it wants the substance to be widely available to COVID-19 patients in pharmacies and health centers. The government of President Jeanine Añez refused to ratify the bill though. 

With the sweeping triumph of the MAS in November's presidential election, and the appointment of a new health minister, the last obstacle to the legalization of the substance was removed. 

Yelena Dzahnova and Ruqayyah Moynihan contributed reporting for this article.

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