Wed | Jan 20, 2021

‘Shame on you’ - Medical director chastises colleagues involved in black market COVID testing

Published:Tuesday | January 12, 2021 | 12:13 AMMark Titus/Senior Staff Reporter
Dr Jacqueline Chambers
Dr Jacqueline Chambers

Former president of the western chapter of the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ), Dr Jacqueline Chambers says medical practitioners involved in the unauthorised administration of antigen (rapid) tests on the black market have brought shame to the profession.

“Unethical doctors make me ashamed to be a part of this profession and I have to speak up where I see these behaviours,” Chambers told The Gleaner yesterday. “So far I have kept the discussion among colleagues, but this has gotten out of hand and threatens to stain the entire medical profession in the public eye, and I am firmly standing on the side of the Hippocratic oath – first, do no harm.”

Chambers, the medical director of i-Doc Concierge Wellness Services in Montego Bay, was reacting to a Sunday Gleaner report that revealed that several medical professionals were operating unauthorised testing facilities.

“‘First, do no harm’ is the Hippocratic oath to which we swear after we have done the necessary training to become doctors. It is a set of guidelines – ethical principles – under which we operate,” said the veteran medical doctor. “But … if it is found that these are really medically trained doctors, I say to them, ‘Shame on you. Remember your oath. Do no harm, Doctor’.”

Up to Sunday, Jamaica had recorded 13,637 cases of the coronavirus, with 313 deaths.

The Sunday Gleaner exposé had found that Jamaicans were utilising the cheaper and faster testing method that demands little or no personal information, with the persons in question using WhatsApp or word of mouth to market their services. Practitioners operating unauthorised sites claim that up to 150 patients are attended to daily for a fee of $8,500.

However, doctors engaged in the illegal practice are defending their actions, saying that the price point made antigen testing more accessible for locals than the standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) option.

“Antigen testing is a lot cheaper than a PCR test, for which you need specialised containers and a lab. The set-up is far less expensive. So if we are looking at a proper testing method for a small country like Jamaica, we should be going for antigen testing. We see anywhere between 50 and 80 patients daily because of the (COVID-19) concentration specifically in Kingston and St Andrew,” said one doctor engaged in the practice.

“There might be some questions of ethics because we are not authorised, but overall, it serves a greater good. It fills a gap that the health ministry knows it cannot fill, and people don’t have to wait to show symptoms to get tested,” added a practitioner in Montego Bay. “The demand for antigen testing is huge in Jamaica and a lot of people are just concerned. Some are living with elderly people and just want to be sure whether or not they have the disease for their safety.”

The situation has caused concern for the Government as it could impact on the availability and accuracy of data needed for planning, especially as the illegal tests are not reported to the ministry.