Government slashes PCR test fees but most labs yet to implement new ratesRevised charges for polymerase chain reaction testing are Rs800 at government labs and Rs1500 at private facilities.
A government order to slash the polymerase chain reaction test fees has largely been ignored by both government and private hospitals.
On Wednesday the government reduced the PCR test fee to Rs800 from Rs1,000 in government labs and Rs1,500 from Rs2,000 in private labs. However, most private and public hospitals have still not implemented the revised fees.
“This clearly shows how inefficient the government’s communication mechanism is,” said Dr Baburam Marasini, former Director at the Epidemiology and Disease Control Division.
“The decision should have been made much earlier and the government should have done proper homework for its effective implementation,” he added.
At a media briefing, Dr Samir Kumar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry, had announced the revised fees on Wednesday, and they were to come into implementation from Thursday.
Until 12 pm on Thursday, the Min Bhawan-based Civil Hospital was charging Rs1,000 for the test, but after complaints from service seekers it started charging Rs800. Meanwhile, the Teku-based Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, which offers free PCR tests for symptomatic cases but charges Rs1,000 to asymptomatic cases and those flying abroad, had not reduced the charge.
Civil Hospital’s executive director Dr Bidhan Nidhi Paudel said they learnt about the government decision only on Thursday noon and immediately slashed the fee to Rs800. According to Paudel, around 300 people have been coming to the hospital for PCR tests for the past few days.
The Central Diagnostic Lab, a private facility, was still charging Rs2,000 for the test on Thursday.
“We are unaware of the revision and have been charging the regular fee,” said a lady who picked up the call at the lab.
On Thursday, Nepal reported a total of 12,338 new cases of coronavirus with four Covid-related fatalities. According to the Health Ministry, the death toll since the start of the pandemic has reached 11,632 and the number of active cases stands at 57,328.
Kathmandu Valley recorded 6,981 new infections in the past 24 hours. Of these, 5,001 cases were confirmed in Kathmandu, 1,130 in Lalitpur and 850 in Bhaktapur.
After the rapid surge in Covid-19 cases the number of people seeking PCR tests has increased in both private and government labs. But officials say if all the infected went for tests then the number would have been significantly higher as almost every househols is reporting Covid-19 symptoms such as sniffles, sneezes, runny nose or slight to high fever. But as the PCR test is still expensive, many people are reluctant to go for it.
“People with limited incomes can’t afford to get the test, and imagine if four members of a family have symptoms, the PCR tests alone will make a hole in their income,” said Marasini. He said more people would opt for the test if the government provided it free of cost.
“If only the treatment of tuberculosis, malnutrition and malaria were not free, many people would have died. So the government should make PCR tests free across the country for those who have symptoms,” said Marasini.
Symptoms in patients infected with the Delta variant include fever, bodyache, loss of taste and smell, sore throat, runny nose and sneezing.
Those infected with Omicron may complain of headache, sore throat, runny nose, fever, and fatigue, according to health experts.
Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of the Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, Teku blamed a lack of proper communication mechanism for the confusion regarding the PCR test charges. “The government should have made the announcement only after sending circulars to the health institutions,” said Pun.
Many have taken to social media to complain about non-implementation of the revised PCR fees by health institutions. “It was on January 19 that the Health Ministry bragged about having reduced the PCR test fee to Rs800. But on January 20, the Teku Hospital was charging Rs1000 for the test. Just wondering whether the hospital staff do not listen to the news or the ministry is making fools of the public?” tweeted @GitaChimoriya on Thursday.
Adhikari, the joint spokesperson at the ministry, said from Friday onwards his office will be sending officials to health facilities to ensure that the revised fees have been implemented.
“We made the fee revision announcement on Wednesday but many labs said they didn’t get the information. We request the media and the public to report to us if anyone is charging more than the prescribed fee,” said Adhikari.