Alex Gertner, 2010, Anthropology

I accompanied Professor Biehl on a research trip to Brazil, where in the wake of universal access to AIDS medications, other patients and groups are demanding increased access to a variety of basic and high-cost medications. Following the precedent set by AIDS activists, tens of thousands of patients are suing the government to force it to pay for their medications. They base their claim on the Brazilian constitutional right to health, which they understand as a right to access to pharmaceutical products. The court cases are straining state budgets, disrupting established drug distribution schemes, and raising challenging questions about the right to health, the role of markets and the nature of pharmaceutical access. We are setting up a database to collect information on these cases in southern Brazil, while we engage in a long-term ethnographic project carrying out interviews with members of the judiciary, NGOs and healthcare providers. We aim to understand the meaning and consequences of a right-based administration of health through the judiciary.