KABUL (Pajhwok): Some individuals, who have undergone coronavirus tests for the sake of foreign trips, complain of high fees charged by private laboratories.
Taking a swipe at the administration of these hospitals for failing to enforce Covid-19 protocols, they resent being fleeced by private hospitals. Respiratory disease tests have become a Gaw-e-Sheri — a cash cow –for these medical facilities, they say.
City Complex and French Hospital in Kabul are the two medical facilities that have obtained coronavirus testing licences from the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH). Any individual wanting to travel abroad should get a coronaviruses free certificate from these hospitals. Certificates from other laboratories and hospitals are not acceptable to travel agencies.
A Pajhwok Afghan News reporter, who visited City Complex for collecting information, said all patients and visitors, including suspected coronavirus cases, entered the facility through one entrance without wearing masks or gloves. No one bothers adopting other precautionary measures.
But the situation was different at French Hospital, where no one without masks and gloves were allowed entry. In addition, a separate entrance and ward have been set up for suspected coronavirus patients.
Mohammad Yar, who visited City Complex, claimed coronavirus tests have become a lucrative business at this hospital. Travel agencies did not accept coronavirus test results from other laboratories, he confirmed.
While holding a coronavirus result from a government hospital lab in Mazar-i-Sharif, he said: “When I reached the airport, officials rejected my coronavirus test and asked me to undergo a fresh test at City Complex.”
He slammed this mechanism as unfair and a violation of people’s rights. “I had a flight this morning but they got me off the plane and did not refund my ticket cost of $350.”
Angered by this treatment and the denial to embark on the flight, Yar grumbled he had to pay a heavy fee for the coronavirus test – in addition to losing his ticket.
Noor Gul, another visitor, revealed one of his friends had earlier paid 8,000afs for the coronavirus test. But he was asked again to pay 4,500afs more to get his test done.
Zakaria, a taxi driver who had parked his vehicle in front of City Complex, said: “One week ago, suspected coronavirus patents were charged 8,000 to 10,000afs per test.”
French Hospital visitors have similar views
Zabihullah, one of the visitors, arrived in the French Hospital for coronavirus test, said: “I plan to travel to the US and came here to the French Hospital for coronavirus test.”
Referring to the coronavirus testing that became a rich-business for Health officials, private and public hospitals said: “Other nations such as US conduct coronavirus test free and don’t charged people.”
Zabihullah said he paid 40,000afs for the coronavirus test of his eight family members saying some people may not be in position to pay this amount for coronavirus testing because the economic situation of majority of Afghans was not sound.
Response from private hospitals
Dr. Rizwanullah Ahmadzai, presidential advisor on health affairs and head of City Medical Complex, said the hospital had received a licence for coronavirus testing. On the basis of this licence, the facility conducts tests.
He said the City Complex started conducting coronavirus tests and offering treatment four months back. Over 5,000 suspected Covid-19 patients have been tested during the period.
Initially, he said, 50 percent of suspected cases tested positive. But now most of the visitors are people who plan traveling abroad. Only four percent of them are diagnosed with the virus.
About the violation of precautions at the hospital, he said a separate entrance had been set up for suspected coronavirus patients. In addition, masks and gloves are distributed to visitors free of cost. But patients do not care and avoid using them.
Ahmadzai pledged the enforcement of medical guidelines by everyone. He said anybody sans masks and gloves would be allowed entry to the hospital.
He added the hospital conducted a coronavirus test for 4,500afs. Earlier, he told journalists that one test accounted for $100, or 7,600afs.
An official letter, No. 501470, dated June 30, 2020, from the Private Sector Management and Coordination Department reads: “The City Medical Complex was awarded 98 marks by an inspection team, showing that the hospital laboratory meets the standards and is allowed to start PCR testing.”
A decree at the end of the MoPH letter reads: “The suggested text was approved so that the Department of Private Sector Coordination can allow the labs to conduct Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests on Covid-19 patients and provide health services for citizens.”
The Pajhwok reporter talked to several visitors at French Medical Institute in this issue. But administration officials were on leave and no other staffer was ready to answer client complaints.
Pajhwok tried multiple times to ring up the hospital director today, but his mobile phone was off. Later on, our reporter spoke with Ali Safari, head of one of the wards. He said the director and deputy director might not be ready to speak about the matter.
Safari added Abdul Samad Ebrahimi, head of the marketing department, had been directed to speak in this regard. More than 10 times, this news agency tried to contact Abdul Samad Ebrahimi and his colleagues, but they did not respond.
Abdul Ghaffar Noorzad, an anesthesia specialist who also owns pharmaceutical, told Pajhwok strips and kits were needed for diagnosing the coronavirus. These two items were sold for 350-700 afghanis in the market.
He branded the owners of the private hospitals as “very insensitive” and said the owners of the hospitals were doing business the expense of poverty-stricken people.
How to conduct a Covid-19 test
A coronavirus test is not much different from the common influenza test. For the diagnosis of the coronavirus, some nasal and pharyngeal secretions are collected and sent to a lab to test if the virus’ genetic material is there.
The samples are put in a bag and then sent to a lab, where it is amplified and examined by a special technique called PCR to see if the person has contracted the coronavirus.
Zalmay Mubashir, head of the Emirates’ Sales Department, told Pajhwok they had contract with no hospital and they were recommended private clinics by MoPH.
He called the rejection of test results a problem in the identification document. Some hospitals give the passengers travelling abroad the coronavirus diagnosis document in writing, which is not acceptable to the airline.
They had no problem with registered hospitals, he explained. “All registered hospitals can give certificates to our clients. Yes, they are acceptable to us. But written documents of some hospitals are unacceptable.”
Pajhwok repeatedly tried to contact Turkish Airlines over the past two days, but the firm did not respond.
Civil Aviation Authority
After three months of suspension forced by the pandemic, international flights to Afghanistan resumed on June 24.
Mohammad Naeem Salehi, spokesman for CAA, told Pajhwok since July 10, PCR tests had been compulsory for passengers flying to Kabul, Dubai, Turkey and on transit flights.
After receiving tickets, he suggested, passengers should go to labs licensed by MoPH for PCR tests. They should have test results while traveling.
Regarding Emirates and Turkish Airlines flights, he said: “Airlines have contracts with private hospitals in coordination with MoPH for coronavirus tests. And this issue concerns the ministry.”
MoPH said two private hospitals (City Medical Complex and French Hospital), which met the criteria for conducting coronavirus tests, had been authorised to conduct PCR tests.
Akmal Samsor, spokesman for MoPH, told Pajhwok some other hospitals had also requested the creation of PCR wards. A decision on the request would be taken after the evaluation of the facilities by a joint team of MoPH and World Health Organisation.
Regarding inflated test fees, he said hospitals had fixed their own rates. But now the cost has been fixed at 4,500 afghanis per test.
Samsor continued a team of MoPH monitored activities of hospitals on a daily basis. In case of higher fees; clients could file a complaint with the ministry, the official said.
The spokesman asked the private hospitals that had been allowed to conduct coronavirus tests not to charge higher fees; otherwise violators would be dealt with in accordance with the law.
In Afghanistan, 35,289 people have tested positive for the deadly virus and 23,280 others have recovered from the disease. At least 1,164 individuals have lost their lives to the pandemic.
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