Health experts in Bangladesh are warning of an increased risk of coronavirus transmission following the government’s decision to introduce fees for COVID-19 tests.
The Health Ministry on Monday decided to charge $2 for testing for the virus at government-run facilities, and $6 if samples are collected at the patient’s home. The fees were introduced with immediate effect, according to the ministry’s notice.
The announcement came amid a surge in coronavirus cases across the country. As of Tuesday, the number of known COVID-19 infections reached 145,000, and at least 1,847 Bangladeshis have succumbed to the disease.
So far, 766,000 tests have been conducted at 68 laboratories in the country of nearly 165 million people.
Dr. Mozaherul Huq, former World Health Organization regional director for East Asia, said the government’s decision will adversely affect its COVID-19 response as the fee will discourage poorer people, even with coronavirus symptoms, from undergoing screening.
“It will affect case detection and thereby contact tracing and isolation as well as quarantine, resulting in more transmission,” he added.
Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics data indicate that around 20 percent of the population live below the poverty line.
“Now many people will remain out of the screening system as they can’t bear the testing fees,” the country’s renowned virologist Dr. Nazrul Islam told Arab News.
“We’ll only get a test result from people of affordable classes, so the data will definitely be incomplete.”
Justifying the government’s decision, Dr. Shahnila Ferdousi, director of the Center for Disease Control, told Arab News that the fees will “discourage” people from undergoing “unnecessary testing.”
She said: “We’ve noticed that many people are conducting tests every week just because it’s free, although they don’t have any COVID-19-like symptoms. The government has some limitations in its resources and ability.”
She added, however, that free tests will be considered for those who cannot afford the fees. “People who are currently under different social safety net programs of the government can be considered for free testing,” she said.