Covid-19 tests under the microscope

The government is doing targeted Covid-19 testing of specific groups, especially foreigners, in certain areas like Jalan Pudu. — Filepic

SECURITY officer T. Selvi was asked to report for duty after the government eased restrictions on most economic sectors under the conditional movement control order (MCO).

However, her employer told Selvi that she needed to get tested for Covid-19 and that it would cost RM480 at a private hospital.

Although cost of a Covid-19 has gone down, patients would still have to fork out between RM360 and RM700, depending on where they have it done.

Under the conditonal MCO, workers in the security and construction industries need to undergo Covid-19 screening, with foreign workers being prioritised.

To that end, the Social Security Organisation (Socso) had introduced the Prihatin Screening Programme (PSP).

Socso will bear the cost of Covid -19 screening under the programme and BP Healthcare has been appointed to conduct the tests.

Since the screening started, long queues have been reported at BP Healthcare labs especially in the Klang Valley.

Construction worker Mahmud Nizar was one of those who had to queue up for over two hours to get himself tested under PSP.

Mahmud’s employer, R. Selvaguru, questioned why only one company was authorised to conduct the test instead of several which would have eased crowding at the labs.

Several groups including MTUC had called on the government to review the decision to appoint only one company to do the testing.

Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M Saravanan told StarMetro that Socso had introduced PSP as an immediate response to the government’s announcement to assist in the

reopening of business under the conditional MCO.

“The programme was initially planned in two phases. The first phase, which was to start as soon as possible utilising the RT-PCR method, was offered to

several service providers in the country.

“A total of six quotations were received. BP Healthcare was selected based on the capability to test, quoted price, outreach and also taking into consideration the limited time during the conditional MCO,” he said.

Past president of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations and the Malaysian Medical Association Dr Milton Lum said any lab which complies with the stipulated standards should be allowed to conduct Covid-19 testing.

“The Health Ministry has the responsibility to ensure quality assurance for all labs doing such tests,” he said.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia (MPCAM) president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said the government should rethink the selection process.

“Giving a tender to one company based on the fact that they can offer the lowest price is not acceptable,” he said.

Dr Raj Kumar said that all labs competent in doing Covid-19 testing should be allowed to do so under the PSP programme,

City Health Care Kuala Lumpur chief executive officer Datuk A. Chandrakumanan, which offers Covid-19 testing, also questioned why only one company was selected to conduct the PSP.

In response, Saravanan said that planning for phase two of the PSP using the RTK method by clinics nationwide had been reversed as only the RT-PCR method was allowed.

“We are in discussions with several other providers to open the services using the RT-PCR method. The announcement on this will be made once we are able to finalise the operational arrangements with all test providers.”

On why Covid-19 tests cost so much, Dr Raj Kumar said the process was laborious.

“It is time-consuming as healthcare workers need to collect swabs from patients before they are sent to the lab for processing.

“The extra overhead costs for labs involved in Covid-19 testing includes personal protective equipment as well as reagents,’’ he said.

However, he pointed out that the cost had come down significantly since the beginning of the MCO.

“Initially it was around RM700, now it is about RM360,’’ he said.

Dr Nelson Nheu of Pathology Asia Holdings is optimistic that more labs would be allowed to conduct testing for Covid-19 under the PSP soon.

“I believe that with competition,the cost can go as low as RM200,’’ he said.

Currently, labs in the country are conducting 10,000 to 15,000 tests per day and the numbers are expected to increase in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor in particular as almost a million documented foreign workers in both states will have to be tested under the PSP.

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