Confusion has spread in Brazil, a country hard-hit by the coronavirus, after President Jair Bolsonaro on Wednesday praised anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, saying the medication helped him stay “very well” after being diagnosed with COVID-19 a day earlier.

According to a report by Bloomberg, doctors in the country's public hospitals say they’ve been pressured by colleagues and patients into handing out hydroxychloroquine, an unproven and potentially harmful medication.

The situation has worsened to the point that some doctors began circulating a petition to urge their colleagues not to prescribe the drug. Bloomberg cited a survey from the Sao Paulo medical association that "nearly half of almost 2,000 doctors interviewed across the country said they’ve also felt pressured to administer treatments unbacked by scientific evidence."

An infectious disease specialist told Bloomberg that he had been "called in several times to stop fights."

“A patient with mild symptoms shouted at me and demanded a prescription, but I refused,” another doctor in Brazil told Bloomberg. “It’s contrary to our protocol and my ethical conduct.”

On June 17, the World Health Organization announced it halted trials of hydroxychloroquine, claiming the drug doesn't reduce death rates in coronavirus patients.

Disregarding the statement from WHO, Bolsonaro immediately promoted the drug after announcing he tested positive for COVID-19.

"To those who cheer against Hydroxychloroquine, but do not have alternatives, I regret to inform you that I am very well with its use and, with the grace of God, I will live for a long time to come," Bolsonaro tweeted. 

A recent video of Bolsonaro taking hydroxychloroquine garnered six million views on Facebook. 

 

 

Bolsonaro’s promotion of hydroxychloroquine had stirred controversy before he was diagnosed with COVID-19. In mid-May, Health Minister Nelson Teich stepped down due to disagreements with Bolsonaro over the drug.

President Trump has also touted hydroxychloroquine, defying skepticism from health experts. In May, Trump said he was temporarily taking the drug as a preventative measure. 

Bolsonaro, who has consistently shunned political norms, has been criticized for his handling of the pandemic. In the early stages of the outbreak, he referred to the coronavirus as a “little flu” and said his athletic past would protect him from the disease.

In a social media post on Wednesday, Bolsonaro touted his response to the virus, saying the country managed “to preserve lives and jobs without spreading panic, which also leads to depression and death.” Bolsonaro has frequently sparred with governors enforcing lockdown policies to prevent the spread of the virus, due to its impact on the economy. 

COVID-19 cases have now skyrocketed in Brazil, disproportionately impacting the country’s Afro-Brazilian and low-income favela communities.

On Saturday, Johns Hopkins University reported Brazil had 39,023 new confirmed cases and 1,071 deaths. Brazil is second behind the U.S. in confirmed cases.