San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Benefit Show to Help Kids with HIV

COSTA Rican soccer players, TV personalitiesand even politicians will strut thecatwalk next week dressed in the finest bydesigner Oscar de la Renta in a men’s fashionshow to raise money for the 47 childrenin the country in treatment for HIV/AIDSinfection.The men are lending their time andtheir fame to this fundraiser that hasattracted high-caliber donations, from thespace and services of the Hotel TrypCorobicí in San José where it will be held,to the designer clothes and flowers decoratingthe stage.The money raised from the sale of tickets,which cost $30 each, will refresh governmentfunds destined for treatment regimensand prevention programs for childrenand mothers with HIV/AIDS.AIDS patients in Costa Rica havereceived free treatment since a 1997 rulingby the Constitutional Chamber of theSupreme Court (Sala IV) that required thestate to provide antiretroviral drugs to allpatients.The 47 children receiving treatment forHIV/AIDS in Costa Rica are under the careof the HIV Attention Clinic at the NationalChildren’s Hospital. The clinic opened 20years ago and is now under the directorshipof Dr. Oscar Porras, who heads a staff offour doctors and a psychologist and helpscoordinate a group of young volunteers.The children’s medicine regimens, suppliedfree of charge by the Social SecuritySystem (Caja), consist of either 16 pills or14 pills and two spoonfuls of a liquid drugtaken daily at specific times.When the program began in 1985,there was record of 14 children who haddied from AIDS-related complications.Between then and 1997, fewer than fivedied. No deaths have been reported sincethe antiretroviral treatments began in 1997.“MORTALITY is not a problem atthis time – it was a problem before treatment,”Porras told The Tico Times.Now, young adults who grew up withthe virus are under the care of the state’sadult HIV/AIDS clinics. Many have married,some have children, including kidswho are not infected, and many are in universityprograms. “Nobody can say” howlong they might live while in treatment,Porras said.Since the clinic opened, the means ofvirus transmission has changed. In 1985,80% of the infected children contracted thevirus from contaminated blood transfusions.Now, 90% of infected childrenbecome so in the womb or during birth. Ofthe 47 children with the AIDS virus, 41were infected by their mothers and one is ateenager who received a contaminatedblood transfusion (even though blood hasbeen screened for HIV/AIDS since 1985 inCosta Rica, the system isn’t perfect,according to Solón Chavarría, director ofthe AIDS Control Office of the HealthMinistry). Doctors do not know the causeof infection of the remaining five.In Costa Rica, which has a populationof roughly 4 million people, an average ofthree children are infected every year,Porras said.PRENATAL infection can be preventedwith proper treatment, Porras stressed.The child’s body naturally safeguardsitself against the virus in 60% of births toinfected mothers, even without medicalintervention. Drug treatments that begin inthe first trimester and birth by cesareansection can reduce the rate of infection to2%, he said.Two years ago, HIV/AIDS testsbecame mandatory for women during theirfirst medical consultation for pregnancy.Some women, however, wait until late inthe pregnancy before visiting a doctor, andsome clinics ignore the policy, Porras said.“It has nothing to do with whether ornot the woman believes she might beinfected, it has to do with the health of herpregnancy,” he said.ENSURING that every woman is testedearly in her pregnancy is the most effectivemeans of reducing child infections, thedoctor stressed.“Women do not demand the test – it’simportant that women take control of theprocess and demand the test,” Porras said.The treatment regimen is difficult tofollow; patients must take their medicinefour times per day at certain times. Oftenentire families are under treatment, whichcan be a burden on parents.However, they have help. A team ofvolunteers with the Arcoiris y los NiñosAssociation, most of them in their 20s,visit children with HIV/AIDS in theirhomes, help them with their treatment andtheir schoolwork, and accompany themand their families on monthly outings.“The fact that the volunteers are soyoung makes me believe in Costa Rica.Most of the people working with us areunder 25,” said José Arias, a volunteer.FOREIGNERS and even those whodo not speak Spanish well can volunteerwith the association, helping with themonthly activities or in the children’shomes. For information, call the associationat 225-8461.Tickets for the fashion-show fundraiserJune 10 are available at Credomatic outletsthroughout and around San José, and Oscarde la Renta stores in Terramall, nearCartago, east of San José, and Multiplazadel Este, in the eastern San José suburb ofZapote. For information, call 281-2626.

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