Officials In Confusion After SC Order To Make PCR Tests Free

Kathmandu, Oct. 15: A day after the Supreme Court (SC) issued a verdict against the government about charging money for Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests, the government and some private sector executives commented on Wednesday that the decision was not practical from financial and technical points of view.

The SC, which had issued an initial verdict on October 1, directing the government to make PCR tests free, issued the full text of the verdict on October 13, instructing the Ministry of Health and Population to scrap the decision of allowing private labs and hospitals to conduct PCR tests by charging money from patients and individuals and arrange for free tests in all the private and government hospitals and labs.

Dr. Samir Kumar Adhikari, assistant spokesperson at the Ministry of Health and Population, told The Rising Nepal, “The government has not been charging any fees from those who have symptoms and come under direct contact tracing of the coronavirus infected people, when the tests are done at the government’s labs and hospitals.”

The Ministry has been doing PCR tests of those groups of people mentioned in the Testing Guideline of the Ministry, where security bodies, poor, helpless and needy community, and health workers deputed on the frontline of the COVID-19 fall under the provision of free PCR test, he said.

The Ministry could not immediately express its formal view regarding the order of the SC but what the Ministry wanted to clarify is that it implemented the decision of charging nominal fees of Rs. 2,000 of the test as per the Cabinet decision held on September 4.

The decision taken by the Cabinet on September 4 had given approval to the Ministry to charge Rs. 2,000 from asymptomatic individuals, Dr. Adhikari said.

“The logic of arranging free PCR test for all citizens could not be practical in financial and technical viewpoint of the Ministry as the nation alone could not bear all the costs,” Dr. Adhikari said.
He said the Ministry might make its view on the verdict public formally after a few days after going through the details of the verdict.

Prakash Bhattarai, chief administrator at B&B Hospital, one of the private hospitals which has got permission to do PCR tests charging fees, said they had no comments to make on the SC decision. “We are ready to stop providing PCR test facility to the public if the government so orders,” he said.

Eight private hospitals and labs, including HAMS, Star Hospital, B&B Hospital and Nepal Mediciti Hospital, had on September 28 issued a joint press release stating that they would charge Rs. 3,899 for a PCR test by reducing it from their earlier rate of Rs. 4,400.

On September 14, the government had reduced the charge for PCR test from Rs. 4,400 to Rs 2,000.
Bijay Rimal, executive director at Nepal Mediciti Hospital, said the issue of fees regarding PCR test has been brought into controversy for months. “All the private hospitals would be ready to stop providing PCR test facility if the government ordered to stop as per the SC verdict,” he said.

However, SC’s full text verdict ruled that only those who have symptoms or signs be tested, which is against the provision of fundamental right in the Constitution where Article 35 (1) mentions that ‘every citizen shall have the right to free basic health services from the State, and no one shall be deprived of emergency health services’, and also against the provision of the Public Health Services Act 2018.

The SC has also ordered not to charge fees for conducting PCR tests of the individuals who come for tests for visa purposes. Currently, the government charges a fee from those who are not suspected of contracting COVID-19 but want to be tested voluntarily for visa and other purposes.

The Rising Nepal

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