With Billions of Naira spent in Nigeria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including on health facilities, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has made private laboratories richer to the tune of over N6.54 billion for conducting tests on international travellers.
Findings by PRNigeria revealed that the NCDC mandated travellers 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 and N50,400, the NCDC disclosed in its Frequently Asked Question portal.
The NCDC said all payments go directly to the private laboratories and not to it or the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Port Health Services or the Federal Ministry of Health.
About 35 private laboratories would have realised at least between N6,547,1258,000 from 7,025 inbound travellers who made payment for post-arrival testing captured on the Federal Government’s portal as of December 21, 2020, PRNigeria investigation has revealed.
Some travellers and medical experts have raised concern over NCDC’s insistence for travellers to patronise private labs for COVID-19 test.
According to them, the rationale for approving the private facilities for testing incoming travellers may not be unconnected with the “huge” sum to be generated as COVID testing fee.
They argued that the Federal Government has finally dug a grave for the nation’s dysfunctional and comatose public health facilities.
Some passengers who spoke to PRNigeria expressed dismay as to why the Federal Government will approve some private labs, at the expense of public labs, which would have done the testing at a cheaper fee.
An international traveller and media executive with offices in Abuja and Dubai, Alhaji Ismail Sani, berated NCDC for promoting private healthcare service against government facilities for COVID-19 tests.
Sani said: “The amount of money spent by travellers 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.”
Recalled that Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, at a briefing convened by the PTF on COVID-19 in Abuja, had disclosed that out of the 163,818 incoming travellers (then), 77,025 (47%) made payment for post-arrival testing.
Mustapha added: “64,405 (84%) of the number are due for a post-arrival test, but only 44,189 (59%) of them got tested.”
He said 20,216 travellers 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.”
PRNigeria gathered that Anambra, Edo, Enugu, Imo and Kano States have one laboratory each earmarked for testing inbound air passengers, while the Federal Capital Territory and Lagos State have nine and 20 laboratories respectively.
Some of the fee-charging private labs 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 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 travelling contingent, hence the government okayed some private labs to be carrying out the COVID test.