Udayavni Special

Don’t have ‘wherewithal’ to do COVID-19 tests free of cost: Pvt labs

Expect govt to come up with modalities for sustainable testing

PTI, Apr 10, 2020, 2:53 PM IST

New Delhi: With the Supreme Court directing that private labs should conduct coronavirus tests free of cost, many laboratories expect the government to “come up with modalities” so that they can sustain testing facilities in the wake of burgeoning demand in the country.

Owner of some labs also said the private laboratories “do not have the wherewithal” to do this costly test free of cost.

Dr Arjun Dang, CEO of Dr Dangs Lab, said,”we endorse the Supreme Court’s judgement which aims at increasing accessibility to COVID-19 testing and to make it affordable for the common man”.

However, for private labs there are numerous fixed costs, including for reagents, consumables, skilled manpower and maintenance of specific infrastructure, he argued.

The whole process of testing for coronavirus also entails immense infection control measures like personal protective equipment, viral transport media and the need to keep sanitation and employee safety in mind at every step, he said.

“Private labs are barely able to recover costs at the government-mandated cost of Rs 4,500. Keeping this in mind we hope the government comes up with modalities so that testing in private laboratories remains sustainable,” said Dang.

Dang said his lab is currently following the apex court’s order and doing the test free of cost while awaiting further clarity from the government.

Agreeing with Dang, Dr A Velumani, Chairman and Managing Director of Thyrocare Technologies Ltd, is of the opinion that “private labs do not have the wherewithal to do this costly test free of cost”.

“It is duty of the government to reimburse the costs and we do not mind working without profits, he said.

Velumani said, the court in its order, has indicated that “government should find a way and we are awaiting for the directions’.

“If the government doesn’t subsidise, it would be a huge setback in the fight against COVID-19,” he said.

In a big relief to the poor, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed that private labs should conduct coronavirus tests free of cost, observing they need to be philanthropic in the hour of national crisis.

The government had fixed Rs 4500 for private labs for screening and confirmation tests for COVID-19.

The top court in its interim order said the Centre should immediately issue directions for carrying out free COVID-19 tests in NABL accredited labs or any agencies approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) or the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

It took note of the Centre’s submission that government laboratories are conducting these tests free of cost.

A day after the court ruling, Biocon Ltd Chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw on Thursday said it is “impractical” to implement the Supreme Court’s order to make all coronavirus tests free, expressing concern that it will lead to plummeting of tests as private labs cannot run their business on credit.

Mazumdar-Shaw, however, offered a contrarian view to that of the apex court through her tweets.

“Humanitarian in intent but impractical to implement – I fear testing will plummet,” she said referring to the order of the apex court.

She described the order as “a judgement that will severely affect testing. Pvt labs simply cannot be expected to run their businesses on credit”.

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