Uganda plans to cut COVID test cost

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COVID-19 Street testing in Kigali CityCOVID-19 Street testing in Kigali City.PHOTO/WHO

The government has said discussions are underway to regulate the high cost of COVID testing in accredited laboratories which is limiting access and greatly affecting pandemic fight.

Dr Susan Nabadda, the commissioner of laboratory and diagnostic services at the Ministry of Health, said free COVID testing is only provided in public facilities to those with COVID symptoms due to limited resources.

“Whoever just wants to know their status but they don’t have symptoms, will have to go to [any of] these accredited private laboratories and take the test at a cost. We are also seeing the issue of regulating the cost so that more people can know their status,” she said.
Dr Nabadda made the remarks at the weekend while officiating at the dissemination of the report of a survey on COVID testing in the country.

Twaweza, an NGO, carried out the study last month in Kampala, Kyotera and Tororo districts covering respondents in 1,950 households.

Dr Misaki Wayengera, the head of government Scientific Advisory Committee on COVID, told Daily Monitor that up to 80 per cent of people who contract COVID don’t develop symptoms. The common symptoms include fever, dry cough, tiredness, headache and body pain among others.
Whereas the government is not providing free COVID testing for those without symptoms, the World Health Organisation (WHO), said: “Whether or not they have symptoms, infected people can be contagious and the virus can spread from them to other people.”

The Twaweza study states that although there is an overall increase in the number of people who were going for COVID testing in July this year compared to last July, issues of high cost, false negative and positive, and high turnaround time are the key setbacks. A cumulative total of 1,384,388 COVID tests had been done in the country and 86,755 cases were detected as of July 8 this year compared to 219,627 tests that had been done and 1,000 cases detected as of July 8, 2020.

In the study where respondents were reached through phone calls, Ugandans said they are being charged between Shs80,000 and Shs250,000 for Covid-19 tests. Some high-end facilities are charging up to Shs500,000 for a Covid-19 test, according to Twaweza.

Mr Andrew Nsawotebba, the operations manager of Entebbe International Airport Testing Centre, said the main drivers of the cost include purchasing test kits, data management, personal protective equipment (PPEs) and personnel. He said Test and Fly Laboratory is providing Covid-19 testing at the airport.
“In future, Ministry of Health should look at how private labs can be supported to acquire kits at a lower cost. Maybe we should start manufacturing the kits in the region so that they can be acquired at a low cost,” Mr Nsawotebba said.

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