Dr. Juan Carlos Calvimontes, Minister of Health from the Plurinational State of Bolivia, publicly disclosed the HIV status of a Bolivian citizen who works as Constitutional Magistrate and is currently being prosecuted by the Bolivian Government. Our colleague Mónica Oblitas who works for Los Tiempos newspaper has described the incident on an article entitled “HIV and state terrorism” (to read the article in Spanish click here). The video of the infamous press conference can be seen here.
Mónica explains in her article how: “the Minister has made this public disclosure in order to exempt the Government from any liability in the event that the citizen’s health deteriorates, but mainly with the intention of discrediting this person. This is extremely alarming not only because the Minister is in charge of managing the health of the Bolivian population, but also because he has also studied medicine. With his declarations, the Minister of Health has violated section 9 of the HIV/AIDS 3729 Act, and also Act 045 against Racism and Discrimination. Not to talk about the Hippocratic Oath”.
The incident was triggered by an initial petition made on the 7th of December by Deputy Prime Minister García Linera, who requested in front of several press agencies to know the health records of the citizen mentioned earlier. In order to do this, the STI/AIDS Program patient list was accessed. The list is currently available for the government to access, which mean any official could use it in the future.
Some groups across the country have demanded the dismissal of the Minister of Health. They have also criticised the discriminatory tone used around HIV/AIDS, for instance, in a recent statement by the deputy prime minister.
Edgar Valdez, Director of the Instituto for Human Development (IDH) stated in a column on the same newspaper: “It is unbelievable that the highest health authority of the country violates article 9 of the HIV/AIDS 3729 Act which clearly states that ‘any health staff that learns through their work about a individual’s HIV status will under no circumstances disclose it’ and ‘people living with HIV will not be the target of written or televised press without their prior consent’. The Minister of Health should be the first person to educate health staff, law makers, judges, media and the wider population about their obligation to know the law and abide by it”.
This incident does not leave any space for misinterpretation, as it is possible to clearly see and hear the Minister publicly disclosing on the TV the health issues of a citizen. There is no reason that can justify such flagrant human rights violation. Every citizen, despite their political or legal status, must have access to HIV treatment and care for other related infections without renouncing or compromising their other rights, such as the right to confidentiality. More than a year ago, RedTraSex reported that the legal authority in Chuquisaca issued a house arrest against a sex worker who failed to attend a hospital appointment to get treatment. In this particular case, we must highlight the responsibility of the government to fulfil the rights and protect the health of any person under deprived of their freedom.
The incident involving the Minister of Health is another sad example of the devastating consequences of using HIV, health and the rights of citizens for political interests. Bolivia requires good HIV/AIDS policies in order to change the current critical situation, rather than doing appalling partisan politics.
In spite of the obsession some government officials seem to have, it is important to highlight that people living with HIV have no obligation to take their drugs. By no means has this implied that the State is exempt from its obligation to fulfil and respect HIV/AIDS laws and regulations, which in most Latin American countries include the right to freely access antiretroviral therapy in a safe and confidential context.
We invite all the Civil Society organisations, regional networks and UNAIDS to share their opinion about this appalling incident. We will continue using this space to support and disseminate your work.