• Tuesday, Jul 07, 2020
  • Last Update : 12:06 am

Experts: This is not the time to charge people for Covid-19 tests

  • Published at 10:17 pm June 28th, 2020
Patient
A health worker collects a swab sample from a child at Mugda Medical College and Hospital, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, in Dhaka, Bangladesh on June 23, 2020 Reuters

Authorities have decided to subsidize testing instead of making it free for people to get themselves tested for the deadly virus

Health experts have criticized the government's move of charging citizens for Covid-19 tests, at a time when Bangladesh is experiencing a steep rise in the number of patients and deaths. 

The government can charge some money for testing when things improve and the pandemic ends, but now at a time when people are struggling to make ends meet, this decision will demoralize them and cause a drop in the number of tests conducted everyday, they added.

However, Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) officials said that athorities have decided to subsidize testing instead of making it free for people to get themselves tested for the deadly virus. This, to ensure more responsibility and sustainability on the part of those who are involved in the testing  process, and also those who are seeking this service.

“The government has to ensure better coverage of Covid-19 testing facilities as well as their quality across the country. This whole structure needs to be more sustainable. But since at present tests are free, many people who don’t have any symptoms and are not infected, crowd the collection booths, depriving real patients who were recommended by doctors to get tested,” an epidemiologist at the DGHS said. 

“Besides, there are numerous reports of people using their political and other influences for a Covid-19 test. In a bid to stop all these malpractices and ensure a smoother testing procedure for the people, the government has decided to start charging for coronavirus tests,” he added. 

When asked about whether this move covers the cost of importing test kits, several DGHS officials said the government is spending around Tk3,000 per test, including maintenance expenses. According to the proposal, only Tk200 and Tk500 will be charged for testing a sample collected from a booth or a patient’s home, respectively. 

“This will make the suspected patient more responsible as he/she is paying for the service. Also, the government will be more accountable as it is taking money for the tests,” the officials added. 

Talking about the time it will take for test results when the government starts charging for Covid-19 tests, the officials said that will remain the same as now, and if rapid antigen testing is approved then the whole process will become quicker.

Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) public health department Associate Professor Atiqul Haque said: “In the current crisis situation, when most people are struggling to manage their livelihoods, the poor of our country will hesitate the most to go for a test as they will have to pay Tk200 or more for the service.” 

“As a result, these people, despite having symptoms, will not test themselves for Covid-19 and in the process will spread the virus even further,” he added. 

Talking about influential people misusing the current setting, he said: “How many of them [influential people] are there? They are very few in number.”

It should be very easy for the authorities concerned to take measures in order to neutralize them and make the testing process easier and more accessible for all without charging people money, he suggested.

“Putting everybody into suffering for the wrongdoings of a few is not wise. Rather, measures should be taken to stop the culprits,” he added. 

Terming the latest government move regarding Covid-19 testing “unethical,” Dr Nazrul Islam, noted virologist and former vice-chancellor of BSMMU, said: “If the decision to charge people for Covid-19 tests is implemented, then this will not only discourage the poor from seeking health care, but will also make it difficult for us to get the exact picture of the coronavirus crisis in the country.” 

Infectious diseases specialist Professor Doctor Be-Nazir Ahmed told Dhaka Tribune that this decision of taking money from the people for Covid-19 tests amid the ongoing pandemic is “unnecessary” and “illogical.”

The NIPSOM professor said: “The government is distributing more than 200,000 anti-rabies vaccines for free, providing free diagnosis and expensive drugs for TB patients, and is also giving out free malaria treatment and free vaccines for all EPIs. 

“Now, if the government can bear all of these expenses, then why can’t it provide Covid-19 tests for free during this pandemic as it is a top priority now?”

“The government is saying that it wants to stop all discrepancies related to the testing structure. For that the government needs to ensure strict monitoring, surveillance, better guidelines, and a better and specific definition of those who are eligible to get themselves tested,” he added.

However, Samir Kanti Saha, former director of DGHS and also a member of the integrated control room for Covid-19 testing, said: “Like dengue, Covid-19 tests should have been subsidized from the very beginning. By doing so the government could have easily traced coronavirus positive patients and also those who came in close contact with them. 

“A proper database could have been created with this and we could have ensured that suspected patients, recommended and consulted by doctors, are tested on a priority basis which would have helped us to better use our resources.”

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