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25 Mar, 2020 23:22

Is there a doctor in the house? Nevada state medical team that banned malaria drug for coronavirus lacks qualification

Is there a doctor in the house? Nevada state medical team that banned malaria drug for coronavirus lacks qualification

Nevada’s top health officials lack the qualifications one might expect in leaders making public health recommendations for the US, but that hasn’t stopped them from attacking a potential Covid-19 treatment.

Trump’s detractors in the Nevada state health department have moved heaven and earth to stop doctors in the state from prescribing two drugs the president deemed promising for treatment of coronavirus, insisting he’s not qualified enough for his opinion to outweigh a lack of medical consensus. However, a few Twitter detectives discovered on Wednesday that these “professionals” don’t seem to have all the necessary licenses and qualifications to practice medicine in the US either.

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At the urging of his state medical advisors, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak banned the use of FDA-approved malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat coronavirus in an emergency order issued on Tuesday. 

The order tightly restricts supply of the drugs, limiting even non-coronavirus cases to a 30-day supply. Sisolak, a Democrat, explained it was a safety measure to prevent hoarding of the malaria medicines and ensure continued supply to the patients who desperately need them.

Pushing the loudest for the restrictions had been Ihsan Azzam, Nevada’s chief medical officer. While Azzam has a masters degree and prior experience in environmental public health and epidemiology, fulfilling the qualifications required to hold the state post, his only experience actually practicing medicine came from an obstetrics and gynecology department in an African hospital over two decades ago.

Azzam is thus not qualified to actually practice medicine in the US, nor does he have any experience treating respiratory conditions, and his advice to Sisolak appeared to some to be motivated more by anti-Trump sentiment than genuine medical concern. It’s not clear how many malaria patients Nevada typically sees in a given year - the mosquito-borne illness is exceedingly rare in the US, and was even declared eliminated in 1951 by the Centers for Disease Control - but the decision to essentially put them ahead of potential coronavirus sufferers raised some eyebrows, especially among Trump supporters familiar with the president’s interest in the drugs.

Nor is it only Azzam potentially dispensing unqualified medical advice to Nevadans. Another researcher pointed out that both Nevada’s medical epidemiologist and state epidemiologist also seemed to lack the necessary qualifications to “make medical decisions related to infectious disease.” Medical epidemiologist Stephanie Woodward has a doctorate in psychology, not epidemiology or public health; while state epidemiologist Melissa Peek-Bullock has just a BS in health ecology. While her resume touts her leading roles managing various local disease outbreaks, she lacks even a Masters in Public Health and neither woman appears to have attended medical school.

Many on social media were shocked that there was not a single practicing medical doctor among the trio, and a petition to recall Sisolak as governor even began gathering momentum.

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