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UN: some Haitian hospitals are charging patients

The UN warns that it will cut off shipments of free medicine to Haitian hospitals that are charging patients for the drugs.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti // The United Nations warned that it would cut off shipments of free medicine to Haitian hospitals that charge patients, saying it had learnt some are levying fees for drugs. When the catastrophic earthquake struck January 12, authorities immediately decided to make all medical care free. More than 200 international medical relief groups have sent teams to help, and millions of dollars of donated medicine has been flown in.

UN officials said they had information that about a dozen hospitals - both public and private - had begun charging patients for medicine. The officials said they could not immediately provide the names of the hospitals but said they were in several parts of the country, including Port-au-Prince. "The money is huge," said Christophe Rerat of the Pan American Health Organization, the UN health agency in the region. He said about US$1 million (Dh3m) worth of drugs have been sent from UN warehouses alone to Haitian hospitals in the past three weeks.

Hospitals do not need to charge patients to pay their staff, because Haitian health ministry employees are getting paid with donated money, Mr Rerat added. UN officials said that beginning now, any hospital found levying fees for medicine will be cut off. But they added the UN would consider continuing to supply non-governmental organistations working at private hospitals hit with embargoes if they could make a convincing case that none of the people it is treating are being charged.

A member of the special Haitian government commission created to deal with the post-quake medical crisis, Dr Jean Hugues Henry, said he had no knowledge of any hospitals charging for services or medicine. "Tomorrow, we will clarify that the government never gave anyone permission to charge for medicine and services," he said. Haiti now has about 90 hospitals, including public and private hospitals and field hospitals set up in the quake's aftermath.

The UN has also halted food handouts at one of its distribution sites in Port-au-Prince yesterday, after discovering fake aid coupons were in circulation, officials said. Rice handouts at a site in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville were scrapped as officials tried to find out how many of the fake, coloured coupons existed. The UN World Food Programme's David Orr said the suspension could affect 10,000 survivors of the massive January 12 earthquake that has left around a million Haitians homeless.

Mr Orr said there would be "too much room for confusion" if deliveries went ahead yesterday and that scams were "getting more sophisticated." But the World Food Programme later sought to play down the fraud, saying the suspension was enforced "to give us and our partners time to improve the coupon distribution process." * AP and AFP

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