The United Nations warned Monday that it will cut off shipments of free medicine to Haitian hospitals that charge patients, saying it had learned some are levying fees for drugs.
When the catastrophic earthquake struck Jan. 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.
U.N. officials told The Associated Press 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 U.N. health agency in the region. He said about $1 million worth of drugs have been sent from U.N. warehouses alone to Haitian hospitals in the past three weeks.
Hospitals don't need to charge patients to pay their staff, because Haitian Health Ministry employees are getting paid with donated money, Rerat added.
U.N. officials said that beginning now, any hospital found levying fees for medicine will be cut off.
But they added the U.N. would consider continuing to supply non-governmental groups working at private hospitals hit with embargoes if the NGO can 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.
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