News - January 25, 2021

COVID-19 Tests: How NCDC made N6.54bn for private labs from travelers in Nigeria

Private laboratories, clinics and health facilities involved in conducting tests on victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, realized over N6.54billionn for tests on the international travelers, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has made richer to the tune of.

Findings by PRNigeria reveal that the NCDC mandated travelers’ to carry out COVID-19 tests only in private laboratories rather than government health facilities, thereby a passenger spends an average of N85,000 for departure and post-arrival tests.

Meanwhile, the cost of COVID-19 ‘PCR test’ varies across approved private laboratories. Currently, it ranges between N36,000 to N50,400, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) disclosed in its Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) portal.

NCDC said all payments go directly to the private laboratories and not to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Port Health Services, or the Federal Ministry of Health.

About 35 private laboratories would have realized at least between N6,547,1258,000 from 7,025 inbound travelers who made payment for post-arrival testing captured on the federal government’s portal as of December 21, 2020, investigations revealed.

Some travelers’ and medical experts have raised concern over NCDC’s insistence for travelers to patronize private labs for COVID-19 test.

The rationale for approving the private facilities for testing incoming travelers may not be unconnected with the ‘huge’ sum to be generated as COVID-19 testing fee.

Some passengers expressed dismay as to why the federal government would give approval to some private laboratories at the expense of public laboratories, which would have done the testing at a cheaper fee.

An international traveler and media executive with offices in Abuja and Dubai, Ismail Sani criticized the NCDC for promoting private healthcare service over government facilities for COVID-19 tests.

Sani said: “The amount of money spent by travelers would have been a huge opportunity for the government to generate revenue instead of leaving it to private Labs. In fact, when one tests positive for the virus, they are not taken to private facilities but either Gwagwalada, National Hospital or other public facilities funded by the government.

“So why should the government fall short of provisioning for testing facilities? Why must we spend so much money in equipping the Government hospitals for emergencies and then we don’t have facilities to just test passengers, why must we go to private who are mere consultancy clinics.”

Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, at the briefing of the Presidential Task Force in Abuja, disclosed that out of the 163,818 incoming travelers (then), 77,025 (47%) made payment for post-arrival testing.

“64,405 (84%) of the number are due for a post-arrival test, but only 44,189 (59%) of them got tested,” he added.

He said 20,216 travelers would be sanctioned for shunning COVID-19 test upon arrival.

His words: “20,216 (31%) have not shown up for post-arrival test, thereby endangering members of the community and breaching the protocols they signed up to. The PTF has concluded arrangements with the Nigeria Immigration Service to impose sanctions on these defaulters for breaching the public health protocols, within the ambit of the law.”

Details of the laboratory earmarked for testing inbound air passengers show that Anambra, Edo, Enugu, Imo and Kano States have one each, while the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Lagos State, have nine and 20 laboratories, respectively.

Some of the fee-charging private laboratories include Synlab, 54Gene, E-clinic Diagnostics, Clina Lancet Laboratory, Accunalysis Medical Diagnostics, Biologix Support Services, Clinix Healthcare and Lily Clinics Hospital.

Others include E-Health Africa (EHA) Laboratory, Medicaid Laboratory, DNA Labs FCT, Everight Diagnostics, Health Africa (EHA) Laboratory, Zaine Lab, Arrive Alive Diagnostics, Medilag Consult Laboratories and LASUCOM Molecular Biology Laboratory

Though the NCDC, while answering one of the FAQs, explained that the resources available to Public Health Laboratories are to support testing for the general public, and not for the traveling contingent. Therefore, the government okayed some private laboratories to be carrying out the COVID tests.

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