Pharmaceutical messianism and the COVID-19 pandemic

Abstract

As part of their populist performances during disease outbreaks, public officials and politicians tend to offer ‘miracle cures’ or ‘wonder drugs’ that can supposedly treat or prevent the disease in question. This article analyzes contemporary instances of what we call ‘pharmaceutical messianism’ and proposes four characteristics for this phenomenon, namely, that it: (1) emerges during times of extraordinary health crisis; (2) builds on pre-existing knowledge, practices, and sentiments; (3) borrows from medical, often heterodox, authority; and (4) involves accessible, affordable, and/or familiar substances. Demonstrating the analytic value of our framework, we present three case studies, constructed using academic and journalistic sources, during the COVID-19 pandemic: hydroxychloroquine in France, ivermectin in the Philippines, and Covid-Organics in Madagascar. We conclude by identifying some implications of our findings on public health and avenues for future research.

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