EDITORIAL: Lower PCR test fee

Private hospitals have the moral responsibility to cooperate with the government in conducting the PCR tests at the price fixed

The government on Wednesday issued a 24-hour ultimatum to private hospitals and laboratories urging them to provide a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for Rs 2,000 instead of the near double they are charging now. Failing which, it now behoves the government to act tough and scrap the permission given them to conduct the tests. Certainly, this is no time for private hospitals to be bickering with the government over the price of a PCR test at a time when coronavirus cases are surging across the country, more so rapidly in the densely-populated capital Kathmandu. Because of the higher cost of undergoing a PCR test in a private hospital, people are making a beeline at the government hospitals, pushing their capacity to serve them to the limits while putting those staying in queue, often lasting a day, at risk of infection. High fees for such a test will only deter patients from visiting a clinic or hospital, making it difficult to trace and isolate a coronavirus carrier.

Over the weeks, the government has slashed the fees for PCR tests, citing deep cuts in the international market for the kits and reagents. On August 14, the government had brought down the fee for a PCR test to Rs 4,400 from 5,500. Again two weeks later, on September 14, the Health Emergency Operation Centre, as per the decision taken by the Incident Command System meeting, had issued a directive to all laboratories conducting the tests to charge Rs 2,000 per test. To this, eight private hospitals and laboratories in a statement on September 27 had said they would be charging Rs 3,899 per test as they have invested heavily in their laboratories and equipment and had to buy the kits and reagents in the ‘black market’.

Now they have challenged the government ultimatum, stating it is not reasonable.

The number of PCR tests being conducted in Nepal is already far less than is deemed necessary. Countries with similar populations, like Australia and Malaysia, are conducting many times more tests and seeing fewer numbers of cases. Thus there is an urgency to scale up the number of PCR tests to prevent the virus from spreading in the community. It is obvious that the government hospitals alone cannot cope with the growing number of people seeking a PCR test. That is why the private hospitals have the moral responsibility to cooperate with the government in conducting the PCR tests at the price fixed in this time of emergency. Profit alone cannot be the sole motive behind the establishment of private hospitals and clinics. The government does provide tax rebates to them while importing equipment and other logistics. So it is only fair that they give back some of it when the country is facing a crisis. There is no reason why some private hospitals and laboratories can conduct PCR tests at the rate recommended by the government and others cannot. At the moment, the sole purpose of one and all should be to keep the virus at bay so that life and the economy can return to normalcy at the earliest.

With the number of active cases fast approaching the 25,000 mark, the government will have no option but to impose another lockdown to prevent a flare-up of the novel coronavirus.

Plan sans data

There is an utter lack of coordination among the various government agencies when it comes to sharing and processing statistics about the number of migrant returnees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to the absence of exact facts and figures about the number of migrant returnees, the government’s ‘reintegration programme’ has hit a major roadblock, raising questions about its effective implementation.

Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March, the government had assigned the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) to come out with a plan to utilise the skill, experience and expertise the migrant returnees may have within the country under the reintegration programme. But the FEPB does not have exact data about them, particularly of those returning from India. The local level governments could provide the exact data about the migrant returnees in their localities to the board if the central and provincial governments ask them to do so. It seems that the FEPB was assigned to execute the programme without conducting any field survey.

Past experiences tell us that the migrant workers do not trust the government’s ad hoc plan, and they will return to their host destinations once the Covid-19 situation improves for the better.