Cost is a barrier to STD testing for many patients

Doctors say STD testing should be covered under all health insurance policies.
Dr Fady Hachem believes it is important to have basic insurance to cover tests for STDs. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
Dr Fady Hachem believes it is important to have basic insurance to cover tests for STDs. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // Health insurance companies have been urged to cover the cost of tests for sexually transmitted diseases to reduce the spread of infection and the potentially dangerous consequences of untreated conditions.

The expense is putting some people off seeking medical help, said Nazura Siddiqi, a gynaecologist at LifeLine Hospital in Mussaffah.

“STDs are not covered by any insurance, either for detection or treatment, even if you have a problem,” she said. “This means that if your doctor thinks you have a herpes infection, you have to pay the cost of the herpes diagnostic test.”

A herpes test costs about Dh400, and treatment for any STD can be expensive.

“It is difficult for some,” Dr Siddiqi said.

“The cost is a prohibitory factor. A lot of them do not want to do the tests as advised by their physicians.”

This can be especially true for the lower paid, who can be more at risk of STDs because of a lack of awareness and education. 

“I think STDs should be treated like any other disease and should be covered,” she said.

STDs can have serious consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself, such as mother-to-child transmission of infections and chronic diseases.

“If left untreated, it has huge implications because it can be transmitted to other people,” she said. “They also have long-standing implications.”

Diseases such as gonorrhoea can lead to chronic pelvic infections and infertility due to tubal blockage, Dr Siddiqi said. “Diseases like gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV can all be transmitted to the foetus during pregnancy and lead to foetal malformations and foetal infection.

“Some, like syphilis, affect the whole body including the brain, and some, such as HIV, can even cause death.”

Dr Fady Hachem, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said it was important to have basic insurance to cover tests.

“The price of each test is approximately Dh350 and it depends on the test – it could reach up to almost Dh4,000 if we request all the tests be taken.”

Medication was also expensive and many people could not afford the treatment, he said. Sometimes patients neglect to be checked because of the cost.

“Screening is very important, the problem is the cost. Sometimes the patients have mild symptoms and don’t take the issue into consideration. Sometimes the symptoms are severe, they know they have an STD.”

In many cases, however, no signs or symptoms occur. Those without symptoms could end up being carriers, Dr Hachem said.

The Health Authority Abu Dhabi was unable to provide local statistics, but the World Health Organisation says an estimated 500 million people a year worldwide become ill with one of four sexually transmitted infections: chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis or trichomoniasis.

The diseases are spread mainly through sexual contact but some infections can spread through skin contact, sharing razors, sharing needles while injecting drugs and through contact with the blood of anyone infected.

Most diseases can be cured or contained with medication.

Daman, the main health insurer in Abu Dhabi, declined to comment.

jbell@thenational.ae

aalkhoori@thenational.ae

Published: December 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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