"We have serious concerns and question the approach to make patients pay up to Rs. 4500 for testing in private labs because it negates the public health response to the pandemic and creates inequitable access to testing for people who meet the testing criteria," wrote JSA, AIDAN & AIPSN in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25.
Health NGOs and activists have urged the government to ensure COVID-19 testing is free. They also request the government to bear the cost of testing no matter if it is done at private or public diagnostic labs.
"We have serious concerns and question the approach to make patients pay up to Rs. 4500 for testing in private labs because it negates the public health response to the pandemic and creates inequitable access to testing for people who meet the testing criteria," wrote Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), All India Drug Action Network (AIDAN) and All India Peoples Science Network (AIPSN) in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 25.
"The 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," the letter said.
Along with making the testing free for people in private labs, the health groups asked the government for full disclosure of the prices at which test kits are being supplied by each manufacturer as well as the costs of testing in public and private laboratories.
In addition, the letter sought the government to accelerate the evaluation of pending applications of PCR test kits for COVID-19 and subsequent approval by CDSCO of kits passing validation.
Indian is testing people for COVID-19 by a method called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Around 119 government laboratories are either operational or in the process of operationalisation have been approved for conducting COVID-19 testing. ICMR has also started approving private labs to carry out testing. It has so far approved 26 labs in seven states. The labs network is to cover 15,000 collection points.
ICMR has revised inclusion criteria for testing COVID-19, extending testing to all hospitalised patients for Serious Acute Respiratory Illnesses like fever, cough and shortness of breath from currently testing people recently traveled to high risk countries and people who are in contact with people tested positive for COVID-19.
The government approved two commercial test kits of Altona Diagnostics and Mylab. There were nearly nine more applications pending validation by National Institute of Virology (NIV) - Pune.
The public health group sought accelerated approval of the test kits is critical to ensure sufficient availability of kits to meet the growing need of testing.
The government was also urged to ensure procurement and timely supply of test kits approved by CDSCO for supply to government and approved private laboratories for free testing and take urgent steps to secure supplies and to undertake local production of reagents, raw material of reagents, and other physical components used such as swabs which are used in testing.The total confirmed cases for COVID-19 reported in India crossed the 600 mark on March 25 with 10 deaths.
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