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Sickle Cell Support Foundation happy with plan for free medicine

THE Sickle Cell Support Foundation of Jamaica (SCSFJ) has welcomed Cabinet’s decision to allow more people living with the disease to fill their prescriptions for free at public pharmacies.

Minister of Education, Youth and Information Fayval Williams made the announcement during a post-Cabinet media briefing yesterday and Camille Daley, co-founder and president of the SCSFJ, was quick to applaud the move which, she told the Jamaica Observer, will end a discriminatory practice.

Williams had earlier announced that the Cabinet has given approval for the exemption of fees at public pharmacies for all individuals with sickle cell disease who access care at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) Sickle Cell Unit.

“This will enable them to have their prescriptions, that they would have obtained from the Sickle Cell Unit…filled at public pharmacies at no cost to them,” said Williams.

“There are approximately 18,000 persons with sickle cell disease in Jamaica, and 22 per cent, or 3,600 of these persons currently seek care from the Sickle Cell Unit at the UHWI,” added Williams.

Responding to the announcement from the minister, Daley said the SCSFJ has been lobbying Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton for this change since 2018.

“We are happy to hear that persons who attend the Sickle Cell Unit of the UHWI will now be able to access care through the Drug Serve (public) pharmacies. Usually, they were treated like private patients, and many of the people who go the unit they are very poor,” said Daley.

“So we had lobbied Minister Tufton and we actually met with him. Now we are very grateful that he has followed through on that,” added Daley.

She noted that people with sickle cell disease who visited public health facilities such as Cornwall Regional or Black River Hospital are seen as a public patient and can take their prescription to any government pharmacy to fill for free.

“But once you went to the UHWI you were seen as a private patient. We saw that as an anomaly, because if this patient was in, like, Black River Hospital, they would have been seen as a public patient and been able to access their medication, but as long as they went to the Sickle Cell Unit, which is attached to the UHWI, they were treated as if they had gone to a private doctor,” noted Daley.

“So it was like a sort of discrimination against sickle cell patients who attended the unit. They would have to go [to] a private pharmacy and find thousands of dollars to fill their prescriptions,” added Daley as she underscored that many of the people who attend the unit at the UHWI are poor, with the majority having no form of medical insurance.

Daley noted that the medication needed by people living with sickle cell disease can be very expensive, based on what complications individuals have.

“A lot of the older patients have kidney failure and heart disease. Those are the more advanced complications which are very expensive to treat. Other patients have damage to the hip joint and the medication for that is also expensive,” said Daley.

The Government has estimated that it will cost approximately $36 million to introduce the change, with funding coming from the pharmaceutical budget of the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

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