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Section: Honduras
18 April, 2003


by Richard Stern, Costa Rica

On April 10th and 11th, Honduras lost two of its heroesin the struggle for treatment access for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Jose Roberto Trejo was assassinated late in the afternoon of April 11th, by two men who entered his office in Honduras' second largest city, San Pedro Sula, just before closing. There was no robbery, although he had a large amount of money on him, and the motive for his murder is unknown.

For many years Dr. Trejo had been one of the leaders of the movement for treatment access in Honduras. He helped obtain donated medications for numerous individuals with AIDS, most of them extremely poor, in San Pedro Sula.

One of my own fondest memories of Dr. Trejo was early in 1999 when he traveled from Honduras to Managua, Nicaragua at his own expense to participate in a meeting dedicated to the theme of treatment access in Nicaragua.

It was a small meeting, not an international conference, there were no scholarships or per diems or international recognition. But he gave up his weekend just to talk with the small group of about 15 Nicaraguans who live with AIDS who attended the meeting, and to share his knowledge about anti-retroviral treatment with them.

Later that I evening I dined with Dr. Trejo in Managua and we talked for hours about the injustices and problems facing people with HIV/AIDS in our region. Dr. Trejo was an outspoken critic of the policies of the Honduran government with regard to the AIDS epidemic. He was never afraid to speak up.

By obtaining donated and low cost medications, Dr. Trejo was caring for over 100 poor people with AIDS in San Pedro Sula, many of them for the past four or five years. It is very doubtful that without his presence, dedication, and expertise that they will be able to continue to receive treatment

My last conversation with Dr. Trejo occurred just over two weeks before he was killed. I discussed with him the situation of Mario F.a person living with AIDS in Tegucigalpa, the country's capital, and told him that because Mario had stopped taking his anti-retroviral medications in November, the government (National AIDS Program Director) was now refusing to allow him to reinitiate treatment. Dr. Trejo immediately volunteered to send two bottles of Triomune, a generic anti-retroviral product produced by CIPLA to Mario in Tegucigalpa.

Ironically, Mario F. is the other hero who also died. The medications sent by Dr. Trejo arrived in Tegucigalpa on March 27th, but Mario was already gravely ill, and the medications did not help. He died on April 10th.

Mario was a hero because he was one of 16 Honduran citizens with AIDS who signed a petition sent to the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (CIDH), in August of 2002, asking for the Commission to order the government of Honduras to provide anti-retroviral medications.

Mario did begin to receive medications in September, but in retaliation for his petition, his full name was released to the press by someone in the government (although the government denies this) and appeared on September 1st in La Prensa, Honduras' largest daily newspaper on September, 1 2002. This, in violation of the confidentiality guaranteed to those who seek the intervention of the CIDH.

Then when Mario had severe side effects from his anti-retroviral cocktail in November, he stopped taking the cocktail. In January of 2003, he asked to resume treatment but this time the government refused, claiming that he had had not adhered to the treatment the first time he was given the chance and that he had "psychological problems."

Again the Interamerican Commission was asked to intervene and order the government to reinitiate Mario's treatment, but in this case the Commission would not intervene, with the Honduran government, and the only option was to seek donated medications.

I visited Mario on March 27th, the day the medications sent by Dr. Trejo arrived, and, with his permission I took his picture (he weighed 70 pounds or less) which were sent to the Interamerican Commission in a last attempt to also get the Commission to order the government to help Mario.

Mario and Dr. Trejo died within one day of each other. They never met, but their lives became intertwined just before their deaths as one tried to save the life of the other. Mario F. left a wife and two children. Dr. Jose Roberto Trejo left a wife and five children.



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