NEW DELHI: Public health activists have called for government to ensure free testing for Covid-19 even from private labs. Private labs, however point out that even if the government were to give them test kits free of costs, the cost of logistics involved in testing would be almost as much as the government price cap of Rs 4,500 on the test.
As of now, only one of the three companies approved by ICMR is supplying Covid-19 test kits at Rs 1,300 plus GST as the other two do not have stocks yet. However, most private labs are charging Rs 4,500 per test.
In a letter to the prime minister, Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), a network of organisations working on public health, pointed out that charging such a high rate for the tests “negates the public health response to the pandemic and creates inequitable access to testing for people who meet the testing criteria”. It went on to say that ICMR’s call for private labs to provide free testing is unrealistic. “Irrespective of whether an individual is tested in a public or a private lab, the government needs to bear the cost,” stated the JSA letter.
Dr AS Velumani, of Thyrocare network of laboratories, agreed that at Rs 4,500 barely 10% of the population would be able to afford the test. “When Indian companies manage to get their kits into the market, the price might come down to Rs 300 per test. But there are other costs like the personal protective equipment costing Rs 1,000 each needed for our personnel who collect samples or the cost of transporting the sample in an ambulance. Right now, the lockdown is hampering our ability to collect samples, buy reagents etc. We barely did three samples in Mumbai yesterday,” said Dr Velumani. He added that the government ought to allow rapid tests using blood samples as that would cost just Rs 100-200 per test and be more accessible to the public.
According to a doctor in a private tertiary care hospital, Lal Path Labs in Gurgaon was not taking any more samples as they were overwhelmed by the demand for tests. They too are charging Rs 4,500 per test.
JSA has demanded full disclosure of the prices at which test kits are being supplied by each manufacturer as well as the cost of testing in public and private laboratories. They asked for accelerated evaluation of test kits and subsequent approval by CDSCO, and procurement and timely supply of test kits to government and private labs. JSA urged the government to secure supplies and to undertake local production of reagents, raw materials of reagents and physical components such as swabs.