The National Coordinator, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, says Nigerians should not pay for coronavirus test, noting that testing remains free for citizens across the country.
Speaking on a live TV programme on Tuesday, Aliyu said the Federal Government provides free test kits across the laboratories, and that state governments pay private laboratories for every test they do.
Consequently, Aliyu said, private laboratories can only charge for their services if clients want to undergo COVID-19 test because they want to embark on international travel.
He maintained that Nigeria must continue to be critical of the reopening processes to avoid a second wave of COVID-19 infection as seen in some countries already.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, the cost of COVID-19 PCR test varies across private laboratories, noting, “Currently, it ranges between N42,750 and N50,400 on the payment portal.”
Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise on Wednesday, a front-desk employee at Medbury Medical Services, one of the accredited private laboratories for COVID-19 tests in Lagos, said those who wish to know their COVID-19 status can get tested by the laboratory once they are ready to pay for it.
She said the fee for the test is N50,400, adding that the test result is usually ready between 24 and 48 hours.
According to the employee who gave her name as Evelyn, Medbury Medical Services conducts tests for all categories of people, including those who want to know their COVID-19 status because of international travel.
She added that anyone can get tested once the test fee, which is N50,400, is paid.
During the live TV programme, Aliyu said, “The only situation where you need to pay for COVID-19 test is if you are going on international travel or if you are coming into the country from abroad. Apart from that, you don’t need to pay.
“Nobody should pay for COVID-19 test in Nigeria. We provide the testing kit free across the laboratories, particularly, the state government laboratories and those on the NCDC network.
“Only private laboratories are allowed to charge and even that is in the context of international travel.
“The private laboratories that are providing testing services to state governments, the state governments pay them for every test they do.
“So, the public is not expected to pay for COVID-19 test and we need to remove this confusion and we need Nigerians to be clear on this. They need not worry about paying for COVID-19 test. It is free,” Aliyu said.
This is contrary to PUNCH HealthWise findings at Medbury Medical Services, as the front desk officer, Evelyn, said, “Even those referred to the laboratory by the government through the NCDC portal still have to pay the mandatory fees before they can book the COVID-19 test.”
According to Aliyu, the only way to completely contain the COVID-19 pandemic is by continuing to ensure Nigerians have free access to testing, stressing that charging for a test even by private laboratories is not allowed.
“We have continued to work across the states to make sure that testing is accessible to everybody and, more importantly, that it remains free.
“We don’t want the public to continue with this issue of paying for tests. No Federal Laboratory centre, no NCDC laboratory and no state government laboratory is allowed to charge a kobo.
“We have over 80 laboratories in Nigeria and the majority are government laboratories. Virtually every state, except Niger State, now has a laboratory for testing.”
The PTF national coordinator also decried the lack of testing in most states of the federation.
“We have a lot of silent states that we have no idea what is going on with them. But, we shall continue to work with the states to make sure testing is accessible to the people.
“If we want to avoid the second wave. The first thing is the issue of testing. We cannot define our problem without really looking at it. That is why testing is important,” he said.
Dr. Aliyu also flayed the schools charging for COVID-19 test, saying, “We do not recommend testing for the reopening of schools.
“If private universities are charging for COVID-19 test, you need to know that it is not coming from PTF
“You test for COVID-19 based on certain indicators. For instance, if the person has symptoms or has just returned from abroad, or if the person belongs to a vulnerable group and is concerned that he or she might have been exposed.
“PCR test when opening school is not important because, even if it is negative, that is just an indication for the period when the sample was taken. It can be positive the next day if the person gets infected.
“What is important for schools is to monitor the temperature of students when they are coming in and also check symptoms.
“Schools testing blindly is of no value at all. Are they going to be testing every day or every week?
“PTF does not support blind testing or charging for testing by private schools or universities.
“What we are encouraging is that the school clinic, especially in boarding schools, should have the facility to take samples for testing”.