Lima, Peru, 14 December, 2001

By Richard Stern*

People Living with HIV/AIDS in Lima, Peru interrupted their own treatment Access Symposium to stage an impromptu demonstration outside of the offices of the country's Health Ministry.

About 100 people, including activists from El Salvador, Colombia, Venezuela and Costa Rica, participated in the demonstration held on Wednesday, December 12th.

Protesters were enraged by remarks made by Hugo Manrique who represented the Health Ministry at the First Peruvian Symposium on AIDS Treatment Access held on the 11th and 12th of December in Lima's Hotel Jose Antonio.

Manrique indicated that the Health Ministry hoped to begin providing anti-retrovirales to 100 children with AIDS in 2002, but that there are no plans to treat more than 8000 adults who have AIDS.

When asked about statements supporting universal treatment access made by Peru's Health Minister during the special session of the United Nations on AIDS (UNGASS) in New York, last June, Manrique answered boldly that "we are always signing these international treaties and agreements, but that doesn't mean we are going to comply."

Shocked by Manrique's brazen disregard of commitments made by his own government, Symposium Organizers including PWA activist Pablo Anamaria decided on a plan for a demonstration outside Manrique's office the following day. "We are tired of living without the medications that we need, and we are tired of our government's disregard for our health and welfare," commented Anamaria, adding that "this demonstration is the beginning of a new phase of activism here in Peru."

Demonstrators delivered a letter to the office of the Health Minister in which they asked for the Peruvian government to "stop its genocidal policies which leave the fate of People Living with HIV/AIDS to luck."

Peru, with a population of 23 million people has approximately 80,000 HIV+ people. Ten thousand people have AIDS and urgently need anti-retrovirals. About eight percent of the population are affiliated with "ESSALUD" (Empresas de Seguros de Salud) a government administered social security agency. ESSALUD current provides anti-retroviral therapy to 894 people.

140 members of the Peruvian armed forces are also receiving anti-retroviral therapy, according to Dr. Andrés Paredes, who directs the military's AIDS program, known as COPRECOS.

But Dr. Paredes also shocked the audience when he acknowledged that as soon as a serviceman dies of AIDS, his wife and children no longer can receive ARV treatment from COPRECOS, even if they have already begun therapy.

The New York based organization, AID4AIDS, also donates ARV therapy to 60 Peruvians.

But those not covered by ESSALUD, COPRECOS, or AID4AIDS represent more than 90 percent of Peru's AIDS affected population.

The cost of the triple therapy in Peru continues to be as much as $7000 yearly for some "cocktails" and around $4500 for others.

The UNAIDS representative from Argentina, Pedro Chequer, attended the meeting and discussed the UNAIDS "accelerated access" program which has resulted in sharply diminished prices in other Latin American countries including Honduras and Chile. But the UNAIDS representative for Peru, Adriana Gomez, indicated that there are no current plans to promote this initiative in Peru.

"We can see that UNAIDS needs to be more actively engaged in dialoguing with the Peruvian Health Ministry as well as with the ESSALUD program," commented one symposium participant. "The accelerated access program opens the door for many changes."

PWA activists Edgar Carrasco from Venezuela and Odir Miranda from El Salvador, as well as Columbian gay rights activist German Rincon, addressed the Symposium, urging Peruvian PWA's to begin legal actions against their government.

While neighboring Brazil provides anti-retroviral therapy to 105,000 in prices that are now under $2000 per year per person, People with AIDS in countries in the Andean region including Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, have virtually no access to treatment and pay prices three times as high as in Brazil.

*Director, Agua Buena Human Rights Association
San José Costa Rica
Tel/Fax: 506-234-2411

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