Costa Rica: Activists Celebrate Victory in Supreme Court Case Re: Access to Medication

The Costa Rican Supreme Court on September 23 ruled in favor of an appeal filed by William García, a psychology graduate student who is seriously ill with AIDS. The ruling directs the government funded health care provider, the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), to provide William with the retroviral medications that he needs.

The CCSS had previously refused to provide any of these medications to AIDS patients in Costa Rica, with the exception of AZT, which was given only to HIV+ pregnant women. William was denied the medication despite having suffered from repeated opportunistic infections.

The Medical Director of the CCSS, Julieta Rodríguez, had filed an affidavit with the Supreme Court stating that the new medications did not meet the criteria for inclusion in the CCSS "official list" of medications. She stated that they were highly toxic as well as "too expensive" for the government to buy." She indicated that the price per patient would be about $900 per month. Yet Guillermo Murillo, AIDS Coordinator for the gay/lesbian Asociación Triángulo Rosa indicated that this estimate was highly inflated. "The actual price would be more like $500 per month, because the pharmaceutical companies are offering discounts if the government buys the medications," he said.

Costa Rica´s largest daily newspaper, La Nación, made the ruling public in its September 25th edition and indicated that the government had to immediately begin supplying William with these medications.

A second case was decided on Friday, September 25th and involved an appeal filed by Guillermo Murillo, AIDS program coordinator for Triángulo Rosa, and two other Persons Living with AIDS. Their case had been filed last August, but may have been considered after García´s case, because none of the three are currently severely ill. Again the Judges ordered the CCSS to provide appropriate medical treatment to the plaintiffs.

The lawyer who filed both petitions, gay activist Marco Castillo, indicated that the decision opens the door for all patients with severely compromised immune systems to apply directly to the CCSS to receive the medications. However, he also predicted that the CCSS is likely to seek strategies to avoid providing the medications to persons who have not actually filed suits.

Because of fears of discrimination, as well as concern about rejection from family members, most AIDS patients here have been unwilling to file petitions or make their plight publicly known. William García visited his CCSS physician, Ignacio Salom on Friday and received the prescription which he needs in order to receive the medications. Activists hope that the CCSS pharmacy will fill the prescription early next week.

Those interested in receiving further information on these cases can contact:

Asociación Triángulo Rosa
Apartado Postal 1619 - 4050
Tel. 506-234-241, 223-1370
Fax 506-223-3964