The decision by Bonitas to courier antiretroviral drugs to its HIV positive members instead of letting them pick it up from a pharmacy is ‘€œtotally unacceptable’€, says the Treatment Action Campaign.

‘€œPharmacists play an important role in conveying information about medication to patients. This means that there will be no proper monitoring of Bonitas members on ARVs,’€ said TAC spokesperson Nathan Geffen.

The decision has also been questioned by the United SA Pharmacies (USAP), which had been providing ARVs to patients at cost plus R50 per line item to patients on the Aid for AIDS programme.

‘€œThe decision deprives patients of the right, which they should be entitled to exercise freely, to have the benefit of face-to-face interaction with trained professionals,’€ said USAP chairperson Julian Solomon.

‘€œThis is essential where ARVs are concerned. With certain drugs, even a single missed dosage can reduce the efficacy rate by half.

Solomon added that Bonitas’€™s decision also ‘€œviolates a longstanding arrangement’€ that USAP would be service providers for Aid for AIDS.

‘€œThere was no indication from Aid for AIDS that any dissatisfaction with the arrangement existed and if there was, this should have been communicated to us,’€ said Solomon.

According to the new procedure, Bonitas members have to get their medication couriered to them from a company call Pharmacy Direct.

This was communicated to Bonitas members late last year and came into effect on 1 January.

However, Bonitas staff advising members on the scheme’€™s toll free number said they did not know about the decision. Numerous attempts to get Bonitas management to comment on the matter were frustrated by unanswered telephones, messages not returned and repeated referrals back to the toll free number.

Meanwhile, Bloemfontein pharmacist Jannie Naude reported that a Bonitas member had his prescription for emergency ARVs for his baby exposed to HIV positive blood refused because Naude’€™s pharmacy was ‘€œno longer a designated service provider for ARVs’€.

 ‘€œThe courier service, which takes 24 hours, was not an option as the medicine has to be administered preferably within one to two hours of exposure,’€ said Naude.

‘€œThe customer then had to pay the R500 out of his own pocket. What would have happened if he didn’€™t have money?’€

Port Elizabeth pharmacist Rajen Ranchod said he had build up trust with patients on ARVs through the Aid for AIDS programme and questioned whether such a relationship could be built up with a ‘€œcourier pharmacy’€.

E-mail Kerry Cullinan