A group of Brazilian scientists who were awarded the National Order of Scientific Merit have decided to turn down the honours after President Jair Bolsonaro chose to remove one of them from the list.
The decision came in solidarity after Bolsonaro refused to give the award to a researcher who had conducted a study on the ineffectiveness of chloroquine against the coronavirus. Chloroquine is a drug against malaria which Bolsonaro has defended throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a public letter released this weekend, 21 researchers from different universities and scientific centres have renounced the National Order of Scientific Merit, after the head of state excluded Marcus Vinícius Guimaraes Lacerda of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation medical research centre (Fiocruz) and Adele Schwartz Benzaken, director of Fiocruz for the Amazon.
A study by Lacerda shows how the use of chloroquine, a drug against malaria and lupus, is not only completely useless in patients with coronavirus, but if administered in higher doses it can also cause arrhythmias to people with heart conditions.
Benzaken, for her part, served as director of the department in charge of analyzing and investigating the AIDS disease and viral hepatitis of the Ministry of Health before being fired with the arrival of Bolsonaro to power.
Both had been included in the list of those who would receive the award this year by the Ministry of Science and Technology.
“As scientists, we do not tolerate how denialism in general, peer harassment and recent cuts in federal budgets for science and technology have been used as tools to roll back the important advances made by the Brazilian scientific community in the last decades,” the researchers said in a letter published by Folha de Sao Paulo.
Bolsonaro, who since the beginning of COVID-19 has minimized its effects and even recommended chloroquine as a medication, removed the two scientists from the list included in the decree published Saturday in an extraordinary issue of the Official Gazette.
The scientists resigning their medals addressed their letter to the Ministry of Science and Technology: “We consider our presence on the list gratifying and we are very honoured with the possibility of receiving one of the highest recognitions that a scientist can receive in the country, but the tribute offered by a government that not only ignores science and actively boycotts the recommendations of specialists are not compatible with our careers.”
According to an investigation by Congress, the Government’s omissions in the face of the pandemic contributed to making Brazil the second country with the most deaths in the world, with more than 600,000 victims, and the third with more cases with 21.8 million infections.
The parliamentary committee that investigated the situation accused the president of nine crimes, including crimes against humanity, violation of sanitary measures and irregular use of public money.