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A Billionaire Politician — Not Trump, Another One — Is Running Facebook Ads For Chloroquine

Australian billionaire Clive Palmer has promised to buy a million courses of a drug that has not been proven to help COVID-19.

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Australian billionaire and former politician Clive Palmer is busy promoting his pledge to battle COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. His promise? A commitment to pay for a million courses of a drug touted as a "game changer" by US president Donald Trump.

Chloroquine has been used to treat malaria for decades. Its more recent reformulation of hydroxychloroquine — the specific drug Palmer has promised to manufacture — is often prescribed for patients with lupus and arthritis.

But despite the public clamour, scientists are urging caution about promoting the drug's effectiveness as a treatment for COVID-19. The drug has serious side-effects, and should not be taken without medical advice.

An American man recently died after taking chloroquine phosphate, a drug meant for aquariums, after Trump promoted it.

Palmer agrees to fund the manufacture or acquisition of over 1,000,000 courses of Hydroxychloroquine for Australians #Covid_19australia #coronavirus

Despite the lack of evidence supporting the use of chloroquine, Palmer's pledge has been widely covered — often uncritically — in Australia's mainstream media.

In one interview on Australian television breakfast show Sunrise, the host asked Palmer — who is a mining magnate — how confident he was about the drug treating COVID-19. He was very confident.

Palmer then used footage of that interview in a Facebook advertising campaign promoting the use of the drug.

Facebook

BuzzFeed News has contacted Facebook to ask if this post violates the company's policies about coronavirus misinformation, including banning posts about false cures.

Palmer has also advertised his pledge in The Australian, the national broadsheet paper owned by News Corporation.

Clive Palmer has taken out a two-page ad in the Australian to say he's funding production of 1m courses of hydroxychloroquine. This from @MelissaLDavey on why it is wrong to describe it as a cure for coronavirus right now. https://t.co/G2dzPdIHKq

Australia's health minister Greg Hunt has requested a briefing about the Australian trials of the antimalarial drug, the Guardian reports, and doctors have been warned against prescribing it for themselves or family members.

Like Trump, Palmer is a billionaire businessman who was elected on a suite of populist policies in 2016.

He was unsuccessful in his attempts to be re-elected at the 2019 Australian federal election, despite a $90 million advertising spend (much of it on digital advertising). Palmer's personal assets were frozen in 2018 as liquidators for one of his companies attempted to claw back money following its collapse.


Cameron Wilson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Cameron Wilson at cameron.wilson@buzzfeed.com.

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