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Viagra Court Ruling Criticized

November 24, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Though certainly not averse to more sex, some Colombians are surprised by a high court ruling that requires the government to pay for some men’s Viagra.

State-run health services must reimburse men needing the pill for impotence due to chronic or terminal diseases, the Constitutional Court decreed in a ruling last week that went largely unnoticed.

On Wednesday, however, a leading newspaper columnist questioned whether providing the expensive pills is really a legitimate priority in a country where the public health system is so overburdened that patients often have to provide their own syringes.

``A country with Colombia’s high poverty rates can’t just decide out of the blue that sexual disfunction is a matter of life or death,″ Maria Jimena Duzan wrote in El Espectador. ``People die of gangrene after amputations, so it’s a little exaggerated to put in the same category men who can’t get it up.″

State health officials, meanwhile, said having to cover subscriptions for Viagra and other costly drugs could divert resources away from attending poor patients or even drive the troubled health system into bankruptcy.

The pills made by Pfizer Inc. sell here in boxes of two for the equivalent of about $15. The drug was first approved in Colombia in August 1998, and the company estimates about a million pills have been sold to some 30,000 men.

Ruling on a lawsuit by a man whose doctor prescribed Viagra for diabetes-related impotence, Colombia’s highest court last Thursday authorized payment for Viagra in such cases, saying it was upholding Colombians’ right to a normal sex life.

But Duzan said many couples could restore their sex lives through better communication and by incorporating more adventure into their encounters.

``Men of the court,″ she wrote. ``Sexuality isn’t measured by Viagra alone.″

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