Guatemala : "Minister Bolanos : Don’t Let Them Die"
22 décembre 2000 (Agua Buena Human Rights Association)
GUATEMALA CITY, 22 December 2000 (Agua Buena Human Rights Association)
by Richard Stern
Thirty-one Guatemalans living with AIDS have filed a suit with their country’s Supreme Court asking that their Minister of Health, Mario Bolanos, be ordered to continue providing them with two of three anti-retroviral medications that they need to survive. The third medication is provided by the pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharpe and Dohme, which had initiated a study with these and 29 other Guatemalans Living with AIDS three years ago.
An article written by columnist Laura Asturias and published in Saturday’s edition of the Guatemalan newspaper Siglo Veintiuno ("Twenty-First Century"), was entitled "Minister Bolanos : Don’t Let them Die."
Asturias reported that Merck has agreed to continue to provide its component of the triple therapy (Crixivan) which is the most expensive, and that the Guatemalan government agreed a year ago to provide the remaining two medications (AZT and either 3TC or D4T) and did so during 2000. But the government has not signed any further agreement for 2001.
The supply of medications will run out early next year, leaving the 31 patients in a precarious and life threatening situation. Health Minister Bolanos has refused to discuss the possibility of renewing the government’s commitment to these people.
20 of the 29 remaining people in the study are receiving full triple therapy coverage through the Instituto Guatemalteco de Seguridad Social (IGSS), a government sponsored insurance program, and are in no danger. Guatemala is one of many Latin America which has a divided health care system in which some people do receive full health care benefits (generally those who work in large, well established companies), while others, generally agricultural workers, street vendors, and domestic employees, receive no benefits and must pay for their own medicines. In Guatemala less than 20 percent of the population is covered by the IGSS, leaving the vast majority of people with AIDS to fend for themselves when it comes to medications. As many as 3000 Guatemalans who live with AIDS receive no anti-retroviral therapy.
If this lawsuit were to be successful, it would presumably open the door for the other Guatemalans without health care coverage to also file legal appeals.
Author’s Comment : I can’t even imagine what it must be like to be taking a life saving medication, and then to be threatened with its removal, and not know if it will be available a few months from now or not. It is completely unbelievable what these and others have to go through just to receive the few tiny pills that they need to survive.
Richard Stern is Director of the Agua Buena Human Rights Association in San José, Costa Rica.
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