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Activists Interrupt Vice Minister of Health at Inauguration Ceremony

“We are not here to celebrate World AIDS Day. We are here because this is a day of mourning for us. Our friends continue to die because our government will not give them antiretroviral medications.” With these words, Julio Cesar Aguilera, Director of the Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS in Santa Cruz (Bolivia) began the inaugural ceremonies for World AIDS day held on a humid rainy December 1st in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s second largest city, with a population of 1.5 million.

An hour later, as Bolivian Vice Minister of Health, Oscar Larrain, began his speech, Aguiler and eighteen other protesters each stood up with a placard bearing a cross and the name of members of “REDBOL” (The Bolivian Network of People Living With HIV/AIDS) who had died during the past year in spite of having received temporary protective measures from the Interamerican Human Rights Commission in October of 2002, ordering their government to provide them with antiretrovirals. Fourteen months later the government still has not provided antiretrovirals to any of the 52 people who received the temporary protective orders, and nineteen have died and several others are seriously ill.

As the demonstration began, PWLA activist Violeta Ross from La Paz took the microphone from the Vice Minister and explained that the protesters were tired of false promises made by the government’s National AIDS Program. “Now they have said the medications will arrive on December 19th — just before everyone goes on vacation. What physicians are trained to distribute the medications? What is the distribution plan?” asked Ross.

Minister Larrain, visibly shaken by the ten minute demonstration, promised that steps would be taken to make sure the antiretrovirals, to be purchased from CIPLA, will be delivered to PWHIVs as soon as they are received. The inauguration ceremonies were followed by a march through the city to the Central Plaza and a mass at the National Cathedral. The demonstration and march were widely covered in the Bolivian press.

Source: Asociation Agua Buena.

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