Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hero: José F. Colón

Speaking of the AIDS crisis in Puerto Rico, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the heroic and selfless activism of 54-year old José Fernando Colón a/k/a "Chenín" who has long been an advocate for HIV positive individuals in the island as an HIV positive person himself.

As founder and director of HIV/AIDS Patients in Favor of Healthy Policies (Pacientes VIH/SIDA Pro-Política Sana), José has long been a thorn on the side of the Puerto Rican government and has often dared to publicly name names when advocates or agency directors at larger HIV service centers have been afraid to speak up and risk losing their funding.

José, who has been also battling health-related issues (he suffered a heart-attack in November of 2006 from which he has slowly recovered), has nevertheless made certain that his voice is not silenced until he takes his last breath.

As a matter of fact, it's been rumored that when the FBI seized 400 boxes of documents from the San Juan Health Department offices in December in an investigation that is believed to be related to the questions surrounding Ryan White AIDS treatment funding for the island, San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini specifically blamed José for raising the questions that have brought so much federal attention on the health department (though it was Santini who in 2005 disbanded a Ryan White advisory panel in 2005 which included community members and replaced them with mostly governmental appointees).

José, for his part, has said that it was not only his statements that have brought such scrutiny but also the voices of patients that have seen interruptions in their treatments or delays in being given HIV treatments after initial diagnosis (apparently not due to lack of availability but to errors in distribution and tracking of medicines in stock).

Following these reports of HIV positive patients going without access to treatment, José announced that he would also stop taking his HIV medications in protest.

“I need a certification from the Health Department of Puerto Rico, signed by its Secretary, Honorable Rosa Perez Perdomo assuring patients in Puerto Rico that the waiting list has finished, and that measures are being taken for it not to re-occur in the near future,” he said in a statement.

He has yet to put a stop to his latest protest.

Through all this, José's long time partner, Anselmo Fonseca, has stood by him and made sure that José is heard even during extended hospital stays. They both deserve not only my respect but that of many others throughout the world.

No comments: