New measure to prevent misuse of Covid-19 testing:
- Tk500 for giving samples at home, but Tk200 at hospitals and clinics
- Covid-19 testing costs government Tk5,000, including Tk3,000 per kit
- Testing fee at private hospitals is Tk3,500
- 60-70% people being tested do not have minimum Covid-19 symptoms
The government is going to walk on the "pay before you take away the goods" policy regarding Covid-19 tests in the country.
People will no longer have the comfort of taking free Covid-19 tests at government hospitals or laboratories. A person who wants to get tested will have to spend Tk500 while giving samples from home. But the fee will be Tk200 at a sample-collecting hospital or booth.
The health services division is going to issue a circular this week in this regard.
Experts, however, said the imposition of any fee on Covid-19 tests may be a government attempt to discourage people from going through more tests, which will ultimately multiply the risk of virus transmission.
The health services division believes that the free Covid-19 testing facility at government hospitals is being misused because 60-70 percent of the people being tested every day do not have the minimum symptoms of the disease.
This is delaying the test of real victims. Hence, a minimum fee is going to be imposed so that no one becomes interested in testing unnecessarily, it said, adding that the decision is now at its final stage.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, at a meeting on May 30, instructed senior officials of the health services department, including Health Minister Zahid Maleque, to impose fees on Covid-19 testing.
At the meeting, she said the costly Covid-19 test is being misused as it is free. Following her instruction, the Ministry of Health sought the consent of the Ministry of Finance to impose the fee.
A joint secretary in the finance ministry confirmed to The Business Standard that the ministry had already given its consent.
Professor Muzharul Haq, a former adviser to the World Health Organization (South Asia), told The Business Standard that it would not be right to impose any fee on the Covid-19 test.
"It will not be possible for many poor people to get tests due to a lack of money. Then, they will become the cause of more Covid-19 infections in the society," he said.
He opined that the government should rather encourage people to take the test more. It should try to find the way to control the virus transmission by doing more tests and isolating the infected.
Syed Abdul Hamid, professor of the Institute of Health Economics at University of Dhaka, said that it will not be possible to reduce the number of tests by imposing a fee because panicked people will have a test even with a fee.
"Moreover, both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients now need a test report before getting admission at a hospital. So, the government should go home to home and arrange tests for all instead of discouraging them," he recommended.
The professor also said it would be difficult for poor people to collect Tk200-500, even if the amount is low.
Besides, if one member of a family is positive, everyone in that family has to be tested. And a positive patient has to undergo the Covid-19 test two more times. So, affording the test will be difficult for poor families, Abdul Hamid added.
In addition, experts fear that health workers, who will go to people's homes to collect samples, may even demand extra money, he remarked.
Health department officials said the government spends around Tk3,000 on each kit for a Covid-19 test, which is Tk5,000 if samples are collected from homes and tested in laboratories. Although private hospitals charge Tk3,500 for the test, the government does it free of cost.
When asked about the issue, Muhibur Rahman, additional secretary of the Health Services Division (hospital wing), said there may be an initiative to set the fee for the Covid-19 test. "I am not aware of it since I joined [health services division] a week ago."
At present, Covid-19 is being tested in 66 labs across the country. Of them, 48 are public and 18 are private. Government labs are performing tests of about 90 percent of the samples every day.
Professor Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the DGHS (administration), said 712,098 samples have been tested so far. Of the samples, 18.81 percent have been identified as positive.
In the last 24 hours between Friday 8am and Saturday 8am, 15,157 samples were tested and 3,504 people were found to be positive for the virus, which is 23.12 percent of the single-day tests.