Trudy Simpson, Staff Reporter
DR. PETER Figueroa, chief of epidemiology and AIDS in the Ministry of Health (MoH), is to investigate reports that persons are being harassed to pay for HIV-fighting medication at some treatment sites under the public access drug programme, despite their inability to pay.
He said that if problems persist and investigations show that the health sector is unable to comply with regulations, the national HIV/AIDS control and prevention programme may have to review the current cost-recovery system.
"We know that there is a problem in some areas and we need to assess how widespread it is because the Prime Minister has stated that ability to pay must not be an obstacle to getting treatment," said Dr. Figueroa.
He was responding to concerns raised by a member of the Jamaica Network of persons living with HIV (JN+) at Monday's breakfast meeting between business leaders and persons living with and working in HIV/AIDS. The meeting was organised by and held at The Gleaner's North Street headquarters in Kingston.
According to the JN+ member, the assessment process is sometimes flawed and there appears to be no clear criteria to determine who pays for services, such as the $1,000 paid for a month's supply of drugs, and who does not.
"I am not sure if you can call what they do an assessment. They sometimes just look at a person to see if they can pay without asking specific questions," he said. "Sometimes people will turn up and they give them a bill and say come back later and pay it, but many persons are not working. When they say they can't afford it, they won't be able to pay it later," he said.
Currently, just over 1,000 persons, among them 120 children, are accessing drugs under the programme.
Dr. Figueroa said that under the public access programme, medical staff have been asked to use their discretion and if "persons say they cannot pay, don't force them to go to an assessment officer."
Speaking with The Gleaner after the meeting, a JN+ representative said it is often at the assessment office that persons face challenges, among them having to explain their situation, sometimes in an open office within the hearing of other persons.
Dr. Figueroa said the national HIV programme is to get persons coming into its 15 treatment sites to sign up for a National Health Fund (NHF) card, seeing that HIV has been included as an illness to be covered by the scheme.
He said that on this card, those who cannot pay will be marked exempt so they will not be questioned.