CNA: Medifund to be extended for HIV treatment from February

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By Claire Huang, Channel NewsAsia

Posted: 15 January 2010 2040 hrs

SINGAPORE: Medifund will be extended to Singaporeans who require HIV treatment from next month onwards.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it will pump in another S$8.5 million to the fund to help the needy.

From April 2008 to March 2009, MOH had distributed S$73.7 million in Medifund grants to institutions – including some S$59 million that was channelled to needy patients.

Needy Singaporeans have been using Medifund for treatments like nursing home care and kidney transplants, and from next month they can use it to pay for HIV treatment.

MOH’s decision follows feedback from voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) and doctors treating HIV patients.

In a statement, Action for AIDS president Roy Chan said the move is “a long time coming”. He added: “Medifund will benefit individuals who are in the lowest income bracket and those who are unemployed.”

However, Mr Chan is concerned that middle-class Singaporeans infected with HIV may not be eligible. So he hopes some of the anti-HIV medications will be classified as standard drugs, so that those who do not qualify and have a job can still afford them.

Gerard Ee, chairman of the Medifund Committee, also cheered the move. In a blog post, he said a typical drug combination to treat HIV patients can cost some S$10,000 a year.

This is because few HIV generic drugs are available here and most are still protected by patent rights. So the move spells good news to HIV patients, who will be able to afford the cheaper generic drugs.

MOH said the financial aid complements existing help provided by VWOs and patient-support groups, and will be subject to means-testing.

The ministry also said funds available to the Medifund Committee will always be limited. So, the committee must balance between the needs of HIV and non-HIV patients, and provide help on a case-by-case basis.

MOH added that HIV patients who cannot pay their medical bills can approach the Medical Social Workers of Medifund, approved restructured hospitals and institutions for help.

In the first ten months of 2009, there were 378 new HIV cases reported among Singapore residents. For the whole of 2008, there were 456 HIV cases

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