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Testing fee for whose benefit?

  •   3 min reads
Testing fee for whose benefit?

A little over two months ago, the chief of the country's health directorate in an interview with an Indian magazine narrated Bangladesh government's position on Covid-19 testing, saying the tests were free of costs."Our government policy is that anyone who gets infected with Covid-19 -- rich or poor -- is a government patient. We will take care of them, for free. Our priority is to test everyone," Prof Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), told The Caravan in late April.But the government shifted from the stance as it has set fees -- Tk 200 and Tk 500 -- for Covid-19 testing at the public health facilities. For fixing the fees, the health ministry cited the reason as "to avoid unnecessary tests and ensure better management".

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The move to levy the fees comes at a time when the country is witnessing a continuous surge in Covid-19 deaths and infections. A record 64 patients died and 3,682 new cases were reported in 24 hours till yesterday afternoon.Talking on the issue, public health experts said none of the other South Asian countries charges any fee for the tests at their public healthcare facilities. Besides, imposing such a fee at government-run facilities is rare anywhere in the world.They also said the government move would serve as a setback in efforts to contain the spread of the virus as many, especially those from the poor section of the society, might not be able to get tested at public hospitals and booths even if they show symptoms.

It will eventually increase the risk of further transmission of the virus, at a time when the country still lags behind in terms of aggressive testing of people as suggested by the World Health Organization and virologists, they said."Test, test, and test -- this is the key to stopping the outbreak. But the government has taken an opposite move," said Prof Nazrul Islam, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19 which advocates for expanding the testing coverage."If there was a mechanism for isolation based on symptoms, then this would have no impact. But ensuring isolation for each confirmed case through testing is not possible. So things would be worse without testing," he added.

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The National Health Service in the UK

In the United States, the tests are done free of cost, but the additional costs related to treatment could be as high as $30,000.The National Health Service in the UK is testing suspected cases for free, but testing at the private facilities can cost as much as 375 Pounds.In India, testing at the state-run hospitals is completely free, but some private labs were charging Indian Rupees 4,500 for each test. Later, the government instructed to cap the rate at private facilities.Pakistan is testing Covid-19 samples free of cost at the government facilities across the country. But some private labs were testing individuals against a certain fee.Even the government of Afghanistan is bearing the fees of tests in public facilities though people have to pay a certain fee for tests at private centres.Nepal is not only bearing the cost of testing at its government facilities but has also announced that it would pay Nepal Rupees 5,500 for each test at private hospitals.

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