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Court Finds in Favor of AIDS NGO

The red ribon is a symbol of HIV awareness.
The red ribon is a symbol of HIV awareness. Source: Photo: Pärnu Postimees / Scanpix

A decision by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs to withhold anti-retroviral drug medication to the NGO-run Linda AIDS clinic in Narva has been overturned by Tallinn Administrative Court.

The court published a decision Monday ordering the Ministry of Social Affairs to revisit its earlier ruling to block the AIDS Health Care Foundation, a US non-governmental organization, from distributing anti-retroviral therapy medication (ARV) to patients in Ida-Viru County.

"We are very satisfied with this decision and it is in line with what we expected,’ said Zoya Shabarova," bureau chief for AHF Europe, in a press release. "From the beginning of our campaign for ARVs for the Linda Clinic, we knew that the decision-making at the Ministry of Social Affairs had been arbitrary and unlawful. This ruling confirms that."

"The Linda Clinic in Narva opened its doors in June 2013, but still cannot function because the Ministry blocked the clinic’s access to ARVs, citing problems with the clinic's structure of care and staffing," the release read.

The decision does not yet clear the way for ARVs to be released to the group. The Ministry has 30 days to respond to the ruling.

The Ministry's stance is that according to the Estonian hospital master plan, HIV patients must be given integrated care, as many patients suffer from side ailments (such as tuberculosis), caused by the patent's low immune response. The Linda Clinic does not offer these treatments, said a ministry spokesperson. The Linda Clinic has not been able to meet EU medical requirements for an infection specialist with the required qualifications on site. Several candidates have been offered by the group, but none have met the requirements, the spokesperson said.

AHF says that the former minister, Hanno Pevkur, made agreements with the organization in 2012 in which access to ARVs was promised.

"Since July 2013, we have repeatedly attempted to meet with the minister personally, but up until this moment he has refused our requests,’ said Latsin Alijev, director of the Estonian Network of People Living with HIV. "We have made the president of Estonia aware of this and are hoping that the court ruling can provide a basis for continuation of the discussion, and that we can come to a joint solution."

The ministry spokesman said the minister has no authority to make that kind of decision, and must abide by Estonian and EU law regarding healthcare workers.

AHF says that it is the largest non-profit HIV/AIDS healthcare provider in the US, and provides medical care and services in 32 countries.

The Linda NGO has been chastised by the Consumer Protection Board for breaking Estonian advertising law, due to print ads placed in local publications in August regarding the Linda Clinic.

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