Although the price of the kits used for the RT-PCR Covid test has dropped significantly a year back, private hospitals and labs in Bangladesh are still charging a very high fee for it as there has been no initiative to revise the cost.
Health experts said widespread tests to identify and isolate Covid patients is essential to contain the transmission of the disease, but the high cost for it at private hospitals has become a big burden for many.
Still, they have to go there for tests and are paying much more due to huge pressure on government hospitals and other hassles.
They also voiced concern that many people having the symptoms of the virus remain undetected spreading the virus rapidly just simply because of excessive fees.
The experts urged the government to slash the RT-PCR test rate at private labs to Tk 1,500 from the existing Tk 3,000 in accordance with the falling price of the kits and thus encourage more and more people to undergo tests.
They said private hospitals in India charge only Rs 500 to 1,000 for the RT-PCR test though their central government did not fix any specific price.
The government hospitals and labs have been charging only Tk 100 for a RT-PCR Covid test.
On April 29, 2020, the government allowed three private hospitals to test samples of suspected Covid patients using RT-PCR and fixed Tk 3,500 as the fee of each test as the price of the kit was nearly 3,000. However, the test price was Tk 4,500 in the case of sample collection from home.
On December 27, 2020, the government lowered the rate of the RT-PCR Covid test at private labs to Tk 3,000 from Tk 3,500. The labs were also asked to charge Tk 3,700 instead of Tk 4,500 for the sample collection from home.
The test fees for a migrant have been revised to Tk 2,500 from Tk 3,000 on May 11, 2021.
Mostafa Mahmud, in-charge of Ibn Sina Diagnostic Centre, Savar, said they charge Tk 3,000 for RT-PCR test. “We charge an additional Tk 500 if we collect the samples from any person’s home. “We charge Tk 700 for a rapid antigen test. “All these prices are fixed by the government.”
He said it cost around Tk 1200 for each kit of the RT-PCR test. “The main price of the kit is Tk 800 but we modify the kit further for safety reasons which cost Tk400 more. “We also purchase each rapid antigen kit at Tk 510.”
Another official at a private hospital, wishing anonymity, said they charge Tk 500-1,000 for collecting samples from any person’s home.
He said doctors mostly prescribe RT-PCR tests while some people voluntarily come for rapid antigen tests. “We make a small profit on each antigen test, but the RT-PCR test is now very profitable. We’ll be able to make a good profit if the test price comes down to even Tk 2,000.”
Contacted, central President of Bangladesh Private Clinic Diagnostic Owners Association Moniruzzaman Bhuiyan said the private labs are charging Covid test fees as per the rate fixed by the government.
“The government earlier lowered the RT-PCR Covid test fee at private labs to Tk 3,000 from Tk 3,500. The government fixed the price considering all the expenditures involved with the tests, including kits, and other costs at the laboratories,” he said.
Bhuiyan said the government fixed the rate of rapid antigen test at Tk 700, but they have to buy a kit at Tk 500 for such a test. “We’re testing the samples with such small profit thinking about the country’s interests.”
Asked whether they are not making a huge profit on the RT-PCR test, he parried the question, saying their role and services in containing the coronavirus and managing Covid patients should be considered first.
Money first, not service
Noted virologist and ex-VC of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) said there is no alternative to increasing the Covid test to identify the infected people and keep them isolated to contain the fresh outbreak of the virus. “It’s unreasonable to continue testing samples in private labs at the previous cost when the prices of kits have declined significantly.”
He said private hospitals are running completely with a business attitude instead of serving people and the nation. “The government has no control over private hospitals and laboratories. They're charging huge money for Covid test to make a quick buck due to the government’s silence. This is unfair.”
Nazrul, a member of the National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19, said their committee has repeatedly called for a reduction in test costs. But no step has so far been taken in this regard.
The expert said the Covid test costs are much lower at private hospitals and labs in India due to the government’s strong control over them. “Our government should intensify its monitoring of private hospitals and labs to make their services cost-effective ones.”
Prof Dr MH Chowdhury (Lenin), head of Health and Hope Hospital’s Medicine department, said the government has set the price of the RT-PCR test at private hospitals and labs at Tk 300 when the kit price was around Tk 2,500 and there was a crisis of it at that time.
“But the kits are now available at prices in between 800-1,000. So, the RT-PCR test fee shouldn’t be more than 1, 500,” he said.
Prof Ahmedul Kabir, additional director general (admin) of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said the RT-PCR test cost at private labs and hospitals seems high in the county as the prices of testing kits have dropped on the international market.
“We’re taking steps to hold a meeting with the relevant stakeholders, including the owners of private labs, as soon as possible to discuss the issue,” he said.
Kabir said the meeting can be held next week. “As the Covid test is now very important, we’ll try to revise the RT-PCR test cost and make it reasonable. We’ll surely slash the price of the Covid RT-PCR test.”