The chronic condition known as fibromyalgia affects tens of thousands of South Africans. Unfortunately, the medical profession, and also the medical aid industry, do not take this condition seriously.
In fact, doctors are fond of telling patients who suffer endless body pain as a result of this condition that they are “imagining it” and that they should “get over it and get lots of sleep and exercise”.
The fact that thousands of patients experience endless pain and sensitivity all over their bodies has done nothing to change the medical view of the condition. Apparently, doctors and specialists are happy to accept that thousands of people have nothing better to do with their time than dream up this illness.
Because of the reputation of the illness as a psychosomatic illness, the Council for Medical Schemes does not rate it a chronic condition. It regards only 26 conditions as chronic and mandatory by law for medical schemes to cover. These include illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and glaucoma. (Go here - http://www.medicalschemes.com/consumer/Rights.aspx#1 - for the full list of the 26 conditions covered by the Prescribed Minimum Benefits or PMBs.)
The Council – the body instituted in terms of the Medical Schemes Act regulations – regards a chronic condition as a common condition which is life threatening and for which treatment would improve the quality of life of the patient. Fibromyalgia sufferers would argue that this condition does qualify in terms of this definition of PMBs.
Medical researchers have recently started to pinpoint the cause of fibromyalgia – it apparently has to do with an excess of certain nerve fibres in the hand – but a cure is still nowhere in sight. All that doctors and specialists can offer are painkillers, anti-depressants, psychotherapy, physiotherapy and patronising advice – none of which eases the pain of the sufferer.
Ironically, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group does include fibromyalgia as a chronic condition. However, the implication is that this disease is a kind of mental illness rather than a physical one.
Wikipedia describes fibromyalgia as chronic body pain and a painful response to pressure on the skin. But then it also associates the condition with depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
It seems that, as long as confusion reigns about the cause of fibromyalgia, the medical profession will treat it lightly and the medical aid schemes will treat it on the same level as they treat the common cold and influenza.
*If you are a fibromyalgia sufferer and you are looking for medical cover for this condition, contact some of the leading medical aids such as Discovery, Genesis, Sanlam, Liberty, Momentum and Bonitas to find out how they regard the condition and what option they recommend.