Bolivia’s President-elect Luis Arce, in El Alto, Bolivia on October 24, 2020. AIZAR RALDES/AFP via Getty Images

Bolivia’s MAS party surged to victory in last week’s presidential election, pledging to rebuild a country devastated by the coronavirus pandemic and political turmoil. 

Their victory is also a triumph for a fringe alternative medicine movement embraced by the MAS that believes that consuming toxic bleach cures COVID-19.

The substance, chlorine dioxide, is also known as “Miracle Mineral Solution” or MMS. It has no known medical use.

MAS lawmakers pushed for MMS to be made available in clinics across the country, despite reports of people being killed and seriously injured consuming it. 

The last president, Jeanine Áñez, did not support the initiative. Now she has been swept from power, MAS can move ahead with its plans.

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When Bolivia’s Movimiento al Socialismo party (MAS) swept to victory in last week’s delayed presidential election, it was hailed by many as a triumph for ordinary people against a corrupt, right-wing government. 

But its triumph was also a victory from a fringe medicine movement embraced by the MAS, who baselessly claim that drinking the toxic bleach chlorine dioxide can cure COVID-19.

In September, Business Insider exposed how members of the movement, who call the bleach “Miracle Mineral Solution” (MMS), had found powerful new converts among senior members of the MAS, including Senate leader Eva Copa. 

The movement claims, groundlessly, that the substance cures a raft of otherwise incurable illnesses, including COVID-19. It originated in a fake church in Florida, and, boosted by algorithms on social media networks, soon found a global audience. 

The movement’s claims have been rejected by medical authorities globally, including the US Food and Drug Administration, which warned that it can be fatal if consumed in large doses.

A pharmacist holds a medicine containing chlorine dioxide at the Farmacia Boliviana, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Cochabamba, Bolivia, July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Danilo Balderrama

As the coronavirus began to spread across world, advocates of MMS focused their efforts on promoting the substance in Latin America.

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They found converts among ordinary Bolivians with no access to medical treatment. Reports quickly began to emerge from Bolivian hospitals of injuries and deaths caused by the substance.

MAS lawmakers consulted with a group of renegade medics called COMUSAV, as well as Andreas Kalcker, a prominent advocate of MMS from Germany with no medical qualifications.

Over the summer, they passed legislation in both Bolivia’s senate and lower house aiming to legalize the substance for use as a COVID-19 cure.

Bolivia’s health ministry, though, continued to warn against the use of the substance, and said those selling it were breaking the law. Jeanine Añez, the last president, never ratified the bill. 

On the eve of the election, Bolivia’s MAS-controlled senate reaffirmed its commitment to legalizing chlorine dioxide.

Copa, the senate leader, said in a statement on October 14 that she still aims for people to be able “to acquire chlorine dioxide from pharmacies and without the need for a prescription.”

Activists have told Business insider that the issue did not feature prominently in the election campaign, because coronavirus infection rates had dipped, and attention was consumed by protests by rival political factions ahead of polling day.

But with the MAS’ Luis Arce now president-elect, and obstacles to the legalization removed, the path is now clear for MAS to make the toxic substance widely available.

Kate Centelles, an associate professor specialising in Bolivia at the University of Mississippi, told Business Insider though that it is unclear whether the incoming government will act on Copa’s pledge.

She said: “The legalization of chlorine dioxide is not a guarantee. I suspect they [the new party leadership] are less likely to approve something just to appease the base as [former president] Evo Morales or even Eva Copa, but might do so if there’s some argument made for why practitioners are using it,” she wrote in an email. 

“And now, of course, the symbolism of the approval being an act of political opposition is removed.”

The decision, said Centellas, would likely hinge on who Arce decides to appoint as health minister. 

Regardless of the path the MAS chooses, the popularity of chlorine dioxide is unlikely to wane soon in the country, as Kalcker and COMUSAV continue to champion it.

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