Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC DG.
By Joseph Erunke
THE federal government has denied knowledge of alleged N42,000 being charged for COVID-19 test by its approved hospitals even as it said it cannot direct private hospitals on how much they should charge for the test.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC which said this while responding to Vanguard’s enquiry following complaints of arbitrary test charges by government’s approved hospitals, insisted that COVID-19 tests were free.
Even as it said it cannot direct how private hospitals should charge for the test, the organisation, speaking through a spokesperson, Emeka Oguanuo, said no government hospitals charge to conduct COVID-19 test.
He said, “This testing for travellers specifically is done in private laboratories and private laboratories charge. We don’t know how they do that. ”
He told Vanguard that” If you go to our website, you will see the private laboratories approved for testing in Nigeria listed out there and the laboratories within our network. The ones within our network are 69 at the moment.”
While also saying that “You may also consider directing this enquiry to the Presidential Task Force, PTF on COVID-19 because the PTF are the ones that directed travellers to private laboratories, not NCDC”, he added: “If you follow the PTF briefing last Friday, you would realise that it was PTF that announced that travellers can go to private hospitals and not NCDC.”
Noting that,” Testing is available in government and private laboratories,he explained that:”In private laboratories, whether it is done for travellers or anybody, it is done at a cost but testing in public laboratory is free of charge including treatment and every other thing.”
“It is because of congestion that the PTF directed that those that want to run tests for travel purposes should use the private laboratories so that they can leave the public laboratories for people that need attention. That is the situation,” he further explained.
According to the NCDC spokesman, the decision that travellers should access private hospitals was taken “to reduce congestion.”
So far, all the approved private laboratories are outside Abuja. Lagos has the highest concentration of approved private hospitals for testing and treatment of the disease.
After speaking with the NCDC’s spokesman, Vanguard reporter had visited the National Reference Laboratory, NRL, located at Gadua, Abuja, pretending to run a test with a view to travelling abroad. He was directed by an official of the centre to access any of the testing centres located in the Central Business District of Abuja.
In compliance with this, our reporter visited the NCDC testing centre, located near the famous International Conference Centre, requesting for a test. He was given an emergency number to call.
On calling the number, an official of the agency who responded to the call asked him certain questions and after being satisfied with his explanation, and hearing that he was standing at the gate, was asked to go inside. A sample was later taken from him. This was carried out without payment of any money.
Vanguard gathered that apart from private hospitals, travellers who are desperate to get their test results immediately released pay to have their ways.
Recall that some travellers coming to the country had accused the Nigerian government of authorizing some foreign airlines to charge them what they called COVID-19 test fee.
Some claimed that they paid N42, 500 even when they had already done the test free in the respective countries they are travelling from.