Trinidad Guardian:- In order to get documentation showing that they are HIV negative, some people have resorted to paying others $500 to impersonate them during blood tests.
The Ministry of Health confirmed receiving reports of people impersonating others during blood tests but could not “definitively say” whether or not the impostors were being paid for their services.
A Health Ministry spokesman, who has been exposed to the scam, said “We do not know why they are doing it, but it is scary to think there are people out there being tricked into believing one thing and could be putting themselves at risk because someone is waving around a document that could be false.”
People may want to keep their HIV-positive status a secret from their employers, partners, and friends. However, this puts others at risk.
When the Sunday Guardian asked the Health Ministry whether it had ascertained why people would have chosen to have others impersonate them during HIV tests, the ministry said “The issue of perhaps stigma and fear of testing, challenges with partner disclosure, and workplace policy.”
As a result of this scam, where people are pretending to be others, the ministry has now implemented a policy where picture identification must be provided to get HIV tests done, Chief Medical Officer Dr Akenath Misir said.
The process of checking ID did not become mandatory until a couple months ago. In the past, someone could walk into a centre and state their name and give an ID number, which would be recorded by the clerk without any photo ID verification, and the test would then be done.
“We have noticed that (there were instances where people are impersonating others) and that is why we are insisting now that we get a photo ID so we can verify that it is the right person doing the right test,” Misir said in a telephone conversation.
“The HIV and Aids Coordinating Unit (HACU) has received reports from testing and treatment sites of these challenges. The ministry encourages the use of government-issued picture identification at all heath facilities not just for HIV testing but for any service of the Ministry of Health.
“It is important that services be linked to people. In order to efficiently provide a service to the public in a cost-effective way, the ministry needs to know the amount of people that access these services.”
The ministry stated, “Anonymous use of services leads to overestimation of our client base. In addition, we must be able to ensure the quality of testing of all Ministry of Health sites, inclusive of the results being issued.”
When a person gets an HIV test done they are given a form with their test results that states their name and a client identification number, which incorporates their national identification card, initials, and gender.
That form is signed and stamped by approved Ministry of Health testers.
“The ministry recognizes this issue but our primary focus is on de-stigmatizing HIV testing, empowering persons to get tested and know their status, empowering clients to disclose to their partners, working with the Ministry of Labour to support enforcement of the Workplace HIV Policy, and empowering testers to work with clients on the use of the health service,” the Health Ministry stated.
How the impostors operate
Speaking to the Sunday Guardian under strict anonymity, a person familiar with the procedure with respect to HIV testing outlined how the impersonators operate.
“It is something that we have realized that has been going on. And our information is that they are being paid $500 to come and get tested in the name of others.
“What happened one day was a woman came into the centre to get tested and said her name was one thing and rattled off her ID number but she did not have an ID card. So I told her I could not do the test without the ID card. And she started to cry and say her child’s father was blaming her for giving him the virus so she needed to do the test to prove him wrong. I almost did the test for her but my gut feeling told me not to do it. Then she said she lost her ID card and cried even more. But I still stood my ground,” the source explained.
“Eventually she came back a few hours later to get the test done with an ID card but it was not the same name that she had given us before. That incident stood out to me because of how she was crying, but that is not the only time we have experienced people trying to do tests using wrong names.”