BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday named a doctor as the country’s new health minister, hours after the general currently in the role confirmed that Bolsonaro was weighing candidates to replace him.
Marcelo Queiroga, a cardiologist, is set to replace General Eduardo Pazuello and become the fourth health minister in Brazil since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pazuello’s job was on the line after a week that saw record COVID-19 fatalities in Brazil. More than 279,000 Brazilians have died in a worsening outbreak that killed more people in Brazil than any other nation last week.
Bolsonaro told reporters that Queiroga would follow Pazuello’s agenda at the health ministry and that the government would redouble efforts to implement mass vaccinations against the coronavirus. He added the transition would take one or two weeks to complete.
Pazuello, an active duty Army general without a medical degree, has been criticized for lacking public health expertise and supporting Bolsonaro’s push to use unproven drugs to fight COVID-19, while downplaying the need for social distancing.
Pazuello’s two predecessors resigned in roughly the span of a month last year, in part because as physicians they would not fully endorse treating COVID-19 patients with the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine.
Pazuello expanded access to hydroxychloroquine and allowed it to be prescribed to virtually anyone testing positive for the coronavirus. Regulators elsewhere have said hydroxychloroquine is unlikely to be effective for that purpose and have cautioned against its use.
Brazil has also been slower than many other countries to roll out the vaccine. It has administered enough vaccine so far to cover around 2.7% of the population, according to Reuters data.
Pazuello’s failure to secure timely supplies of vaccines for the country has led to calls for an inquiry in Congress, while the Supreme Court is investigating his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the northern city of Manaus, which ran out of oxygen.
Bolsonaro met on Sunday with Ludhmila Hajjar, a doctor who has been at the forefront of COVID-19 treatment and research in Brazil, but disagreed on how to approach the crisis.
Hajjar told CNN Brasil that she declined the job, saying that as a doctor she had to “remain above ideology.”
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito, Maria Carolina Marcello and Lissandra Paraguassu; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Dan Grebler and Rosalba O’Brien)