ROSARIO, Argentina – In a letter signed by a third of the Catholic bishops in Ecuador, the prelates ask President Lenin Moreno to authorize the use of a bleaching agent as an “alternative medicine” to treat COVID-19.

“We ask you to authorize the use of chlorine dioxide,” said ten of the 30 bishops in the country in a letter to the president released on Thursday through the bishops’ conference website.

The missive touched on the use of chlorine dioxide as a side note, with most of the text denouncing the corruption shown by some government officials during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Among other things, the bishops ask for the resignation of the health minister.

“We thing that the Ministry of Health, through its employees and officials, seems dedicated to persecuting doctors and small distributors of chlorine dioxide, a substance proven to cure COVID-19,” they write. “Many doctors know this, but combat this irrefutable knowledge, refusing to do clinical trials simply because the World Health Organization won’t do them nor approve its use.”

In May, Ecuador’s state Agency for Health Control and Surveillance (Arcsa) warned about the commercialization of sodium chlorite in the country, and called on the population to “refrain from purchasing” these products.

In that document, the Arcsa referred to a previous statement from the agency, from 2017, in which it asked people to “abstain from consuming” sodium chlorite — called “Miracle Mineral Suplement” (MMS) — which is used to make chlorine dioxide, most commonly used as bleach.

Its consumption “can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, poisoning, and kidney failure,” said the agency, specifying that MMS lacks a health record, which “represents a risk to the health of the population.”

In April, the United States justice department suspended the sale of the MMS, which was promoted by the religious group “The Church of Genesis.” This group was selling MMS through its website, claiming that it will cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent COVID-19, as well as other diseases including Alzheimer’s, autism, brain cancer, HIV/AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a statement saying it is “not aware of any scientific evidence supporting the safety or effectiveness” of  chlorine dioxide and expressed concern “that products that fraudulently claim to cure, treat or prevent serious diseases like COVID-19 may cause consumers to delay or stop appropriate medical treatment, leading to serious and life-threatening harm.”

“The sale of these products can jeopardize a person’s health and delay proper medical treatment,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn. “We continue to take action and keep up our efforts to monitor for fraudulent treatments during this public health emergency and remind the public to seek medical help from their health care providers.”

In their letter, the Ecuadoran bishops claimed that the restriction on the use of the chemical “does not favor the health of the sick, on the contrary, it harms it, preventing alternative medicines, such as chlorine dioxide, from being taken into account” as treatments for the new coronavirus.

They considered that “the Ministry of Health seems to be engaged, through its employees and officials, in persecuting doctors and small distributors of chlorine dioxide.”

Ecuador, with 17.5 million inhabitants, had one of the first major outbreaks of the coronavirus in Latin America. The country has more than 65,000 cases, with 4,939 deaths, a rate of 28 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants.

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