• The Bolivian senate has approved the use of chlorine dioxide, a toxic bleach, as a treatment for COVID-19, according to an official statement Tuesday.
  • The motion needs to be approved by Bolivia’s lower house and its president before it can be used legally.
  • The substance, known as “miracle mineral solution,” is advocated as a cure for a vast array of illnesses by a sprawling movement of online advocates – four of whom are being prosecuted in Florida.
  • Senators approved the substance despite medical warnings including from the FDA and Bolivia’s own health ministry.
  • An expert told Business Insider that fake cures are surging in popularity in Bolivia, which is struggling to cope with its COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Bolivian senate has approved the use of chlorine dioxide, a toxic bleach falsely promoted as a miracle cure, as a treatment for COVID-19.

According to a statement posted Tuesday on the website of the Bolivian senate, lawmakers approved a bill that “authorizes the preparation, marketing, supply and use of the chlorine dioxide solution for the prevention and treatment of coronavirus.”

Chlorine dioxide is known by its advocates as “miracle mineral solution” or MMS. It has for years been promoted on the fringes of the internet as a cure for conditions as wide-ranging as cancer, autism, and, more recently, COVID-19.

Its use is becoming more popular in South American countries, such as Bolivia, where medical authorities are struggling to cope with the pandemic, experts say.

The motion still requires approval from Bolivia's lower chamber and its president before it can become law.

Nonetheless, the adoption of the widely discredited substance by a national legislature is a striking development in the spread of medical disinformation around the coronavirus.

Organizations including the US Food and Drug Administration, as well as similar bodies in Ireland and Canada have issued warnings against, which has been linked to side effects up to and including death. A Business Insider investigation last year identified two deaths in the US linked to consuming MMS.

Bolivia's own health ministry is among the bodies to warn against it.

Nonetheless, under the proposed law public or private laboratories would be allowed to produce the substance, says the statement. It says the production process "must comply with quality standards."

Under the bill, the substance would be available in pharmacies without prescription and made available through the state health system.

In a statement to Business Insider, the Bolivian embassy in London confirmed that the legislation had been approved by the senate, which is controlled by the left-wing Moviemento al Socialismo (MAS) party. The party also controls the lower house, but not the presidency.

The embassy also referenced a June warning from the country's ministry of health that the substance is ineffective and dangerous.

"Despite official recommendations provided by the Ministry of Health of Bolivia against the use of chlorine dioxide solution to treat COVID-19, the Legislative Branch (Senate), the majority (2/3) of which is of the MAS political party, passed the law you refer to, which approves the use of said substance to treat COVID-19 patients," said an embassy official.

The legislation due to be sent to the lower legislative house, which is also controlled by MAS. If approved, it would then require the signature of the country's right-wing president, Jeanine Añez, to become law.

The president can approve or send the legislation back for further deliberation. However, under the Bolivian constitution she cannot veto it entirely like a US president.

How MMS advocates set their sights on Latin America

Chlorine dioxide is a type of industrial bleach, which in recent years has been hailed as a miracle cure by a sprawling network of advocates and conspiracy theorists.

They claim, on the basis of anecdotal evidence and without scientific backing, that it can cure diseases including cancer and malaria, and conditions such as autism. As the coronavirus pandemic spread, advocates began to claim it could also treat COVID-19, as both prevention and cure.

The Food and Drug Administration in the US has issued several warnings against consuming the substance, saying that there is no evidence it has medical benefits.

In an advisory last year said it received reports of "severe vomiting, severe diarrhea, life-threatening low blood pressure caused by dehydration and acute liver failure after drinking these products."

coronavirus Bolivia

Foto: Health workers wearing biosecurity suits walk in El Tejar neighborhood during the screening for people with COVID-19 symptoms on July 5, 2020 in La Paz, Bolivia. Source: Gaston Brito/Getty Images

A US-based group calling itself the Genesis II church has promoted and sold the substance globally, including in Latin America.

Last week its co-founder, Mark Grenon and three of his sons were charged with federal crimes over the production and sale of MMS.

Business Insider had earlier exposed how the substance was being widely promoted by the group on YouTube, as well as being used in Ugandan communities as a malaria treatment. A further report showed how a Genesis II group based in Brazil was promoting the substance on the Telegram app as a COVID-19 cure.

Fiona O'Leary, who has campaigned to raise awareness of the dangers of the substance, said that across Latin America the substance was becoming more popular.

She referred to a recent statement by Catholic bishops in Ecuador, as reported by a Catholic news website, calling for the government to approve the use of chlorine dioxide as a COVID-19 treatment.

According to the Poynter Institute, in June a post falsely claiming the substance had already been approved by the Bolivian health ministry was shared widely on Facebook.

That prompted the Bolivian health ministry to issue its warning against the substance. The ministry said that "there is no scientific evidence to support the use [of chlorine dioxide] against COVID-19 or other diseases" and that ads for it on social media were deceitful.

Professor Diego Escobari, a Bolivian economics professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande, told Business Insider that alternative and traditional medicines have grown more popular as the pandemic worsened.

"Most of the population strongly believes in traditional medicine, which coupled with the need for hope under COVID-19 has resulted in chlorine dioxide having enormous popularity as people believe it can really prevent and treat COVID-19," he wrote in an email.

"Public and private hospitals have also reached their capacity limits, which has put more pressure on politicians to come up with responses," he said. He noted that presidential elections are scheduled for September 6.

South America has been among the continents most severely affected by the pandemic.

According to Worldometer, there have been 52,218 cases of the coronavirus recorded in Bolivia, with 1,942 deaths. Last week President Añez announced that she had tested positive for the virus.

In the statement from the Bolivian senate, lawmaker and Senate president Eva Copa said the bill aimed to regulate the production and sale of the bleach: "Some people end up buying the product on the black market, so there must be a law that controls the trade and production of this product."

Copa also tested positive for the coronavirus last week, according to local reports.