Inroads into care for neglected diseases in Honduras but many still without treatment

Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Until five months ago the people of Honduras, a country in Central America with serious problems of access to essential drugs, did not have even one Aids treatment provided by the public hospitals. Pressure from MSF, international institutions, activists and people living with Aids has finally allowed the arrival of the ARVs.

Today, three hospitals in Honduras treat 200 patients. However, the country has 4,000 more people on its waiting lists. These problems of access to life saving drugs are equally present for other diseases with high prevalence like Chagas, tuberculosis as well as other respiratory diseases.

The lack of drugs for certain diseases, antiretrovirals at exorbitant prices, as well as failures when offering a quality service, are some of the elements preventing widespread access to the drugs in this country. In order to face these serious problems, on Monday November 11 and Tuesday November 12, political authorities, national doctors, and MSF experts of MSF as well as other specialists met to find solutions to improve the living conditions of the Honduran people.

MSF, in collaboration with the Ministry for Health, will tackle the national policy of health, causes of the access lack to drugs, quality of the drugs, arrival of generics lack of access to human rights and access to health care, as well as the dangers faced with the future Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). Hector lives in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and took part in the conference - as a person living with HIV.

Hector is still alive thanks to the assistance of several NGOs, and the support of several friends who provided him drugs over the past years. He was lucky because dying here from a lack of the treatment to combat opportunist diseases is part of the daily routine. Today he is one of the 200 patients receiving ARV treatment provided by the state since July 2002.

However, he fights day after day to improve access to drugs for his colleagues. According to him, the government must work to improve access to drugs for "those who have AIDS, but also for the patients of Chagas and tuberculosis". Honduras, with a population of 6.4 million, and a ratio of one doctor for every 1,800 inhabitants, has 60,000 people with HIV. 80% of the population lives below the poverty line.

According to figures' from the World Health Organisation (WHO), Latin America counted for more than two million case of HIV in 2001. According to the NGO "Violeta", which works with the marginalised populations in the country, a good part of the population has not got access to care nor to basic drugs. And yet, Alicia Almendarez, emphasizes "the budget for the Ministry for Defense is still increasing."

Almendarez, who will take part in this national conference, wants a reduction in the military budget and the installation of effective policies for public health for the population of this country which counts at least 60,000 cases of HIV, the highest figure of the area, and approximately 300,000 people with Chagas.