RT-PCR tests: are the prices still too high?text_fields
Among the many things that make surviving during the Covid-19 pandemic, an unlevel playing field rigged to suit the rich, steep prices of RT-PCR tests are one of them.
A real-time Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction test, popularly known in recent times as the RT-PCR test is considered the 'gold standard for the detection of Covid-19 infection. While antigen-based Covid-19 tests are cheaper and produce faster results, RT-PCR test results are preferred for their higher accuracy in detecting whether a person has the Covid-19 virus in their body.
If you need to get things done, chances are you will be required to be in possession of a negative RT-PCR test result to produce when prompted. It's not unprecedented— living during a pandemic is difficult. No one said otherwise. The price of living, or surviving rather, is steep.
The cost of obtaining an RT-PCR test in India ranges from 475 rupees to 1,500 rupees, depending on the state. For home collection and private hospital testing, the prices are higher. Will every person partaking in any kind of activity that requires them to produce a negative RT-PCR test be able to afford these rates? The chances are unlikely.
While some institutions accept antigen tests, a larger majority mandate RT-PCR test results. For travelling, attending offline examinations, or going to an office to do their jobs, most activities require a negative RT-PCR test result.
Well, it's not the need for these test results that are not in the question, but the prices are. Requiring people to get tested for the virus before entering the public sphere is an essential step in curbing the pandemic. The high cost of these tests, however, not only disable people of modest means from accessing these facilities but also quite recently have triggered people into using nefarious means to bypass the cost and inconvenience of getting tested.
Notedly, there has been a significant reduction in the cost of these tests in the country when compared to the initial prices during the advent of the pandemic. In November 2020, petitioner advocate Ajay Agarwal filed a plea with the Supreme Court for the regulation of prices for RT-PCR tests pan-nation. At the time, the test rates varied from 900 rupees to a whopping 4,500 rupees, depending on the state or union territory's regulation.
Agarwal contested that the maximum price for RT-PCR tests must be fixed at 300 rupees, a reasonable amount, considering the original price of the test itself was around 200 rupees when Agarwal filed the petition and has now been reduced further to around 150 rupees. Even considering the additional costs that manpower, equipment, sanitization, transport and other expenses private labs have to bear, the petition argued that with 100% profit going to the labs, the costs must be capped at reasonable amounts, keeping in mind the welfare of the population.
It's been almost 9 months since the petition was filed, but the apex court is yet to issue a verdict. At the same time, state governments began to regulate prices after a continuous outcry from the citizens and began to provide free testing in government facilities for certain cases. Most recently, the Kerala government issued an order to reduce the price of testing from 1,700 rupees to 500 rupees. The order was met with resistance from many private labs stating that the cost is not practical. Nevertheless, you can still get an RT-PCR test in Kerala for 500 rupees at some private testing facilities.
Similarly in Karnataka, the cost of an RT-PCR test is around 800 rupees. Because of the lack of government regulation on the price, the cost varies from lab to lab. When the rise in cases resulted in both Kerala and Karnataka borders demanding a negative RT-PCR test for interstate travel, some people either cancelled their travel plans, made fake test results to bypass the requirement, or tried to find unknown access points to cross barricades, causing more strain on police officers stationed at borders.
Needless to say, until a price regulation is implemented pan-nation and more people receive access to free government testing facilities, similar chaos will continue to ensue.