Brazil's Bolsonaro picks 4th health minister as COVID rages

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro walks past his Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello, left, and President of the Sanitary Agency Antonio Barra Torres before a ceremony to sign a law that expands the federal government's ability to acquire COVID-19 vaccines, at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

SAO PAULO – Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday picked his fourth health minister since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, amid the worst throes of the disease in the country yet and after a series of errors decried by public health experts.

Marcelo Queiroga, the president of the Brazilian Society of Cardiology, will replace Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general with expertise in logistics who landed the position last May despite having no prior health experience.

Earlier Monday, Pazuello acknowledged in a press conference that Bolsonaro aimed to replace him. The first candidate for the job, cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar, rejected it.

Pazuello’s departure means ushering in Brazil’s fourth health minister during the pandemic, although he has presided over the ministry for the longest period of the three to date. The revolving door signals the challenges for the government of Latin America’s largest nation to implement effective measures to control the virus’ spread -- or even agreeing which measures are necessary.

Pazuello’s two predecessors left the position amid disagreements with Bolsonaro, who criticized broad social distancing and supported the use of an unproven anti-malarial drug to treat the disease. He continues to hold those positions, despite health experts’ admonishments and studies showing the drug has no effect on COVID-19.

Pazuello proved more compliant. Immediately after taking the job his ministry backed use and distribution of the malaria pill. On several occasions, he said that his boss tells him what to do, and he obeys.

“The conversation (with Queiroga) was excellent. I already knew him from a few years back. He has everything it takes to do nice work, continuing what Pazuello has done up until today,” Bolsonaro told supporters at the entrance of the presidential residence in Brasilia, adding there will be a transition period of up to two weeks with the outgoing and the incoming minister.

“Pazuello’s work was well done in the management part. Now we are in a phase that is more aggressive in the fight against the virus,” Brazil’s president said.