• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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Nigeria’s travellers pay 42% higher for COVID-19 test than peers

FG bans travellers from Brazil, India, Turkey amid surge in COVID-19 cases, deaths

Nigeria’s travellers are facing a 42-percent higher charge for Covid-19 test than their peers in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and even India, according to BusinessDay finding.

They do not just pay higher. They wait longer to get their polymerase chain reaction (PCR) results.

Nigerian accredited laboratories charge $141, equivalent of N54,400, for a Covid-19 test, according to the Presidential Task-Force (PTF) on Covid-19.

BusinessDay’s investigation reveals that the fee, which has forced some travellers to seek cheaper results through the backdoor, is 36 percent higher than what South African private laboratories charge; 23 percent more than what is paid in Kenya; 42 percent more than charges in Ghana; 42 percent higher than Senegal’s, and 74 percent more than India’s.

To undergo a coronavirus test at Lancet Laboratories, Johannesburg, for instance, a traveller pays R1400 ($83) or N31,872. At The Nairobi Hospital Laboratory or Aga Khan University Hospital Laboratory, Nairobi, $100 or N38,400 is sufficient.

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Nyaho Medical Centre Laboratory Accra accepts between $75 or N28,800 and $100 or N38,400. In Senegal, it is $75 within the shortest turnaround time – 6 hours. Indians pay the lowest, $33 or N12,672.

Emmanuel Amaechi, a manager at one of Nigeria’s accredited private labs, says some of the considerations sum up in the fee is the high cost of reagents and personal protective equipment required in the processing of samples.

He notes that these items require foreign exchange for import since the local capacity for manufacturing remains poor, explaining, “The price of everything has gone up. But having said that, you need to remember it was the government that set the price.”

When Yisau Jacob, a molecular biologist at the Nigeria Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), was leaving Senegal last Friday after a four-month fellowship that the pandemic overshot to nine months, $75 was enough to get him tested and certified.

But to book for a post-arrival test in his home country, Nigeria, he had to cough out $141. “I really don’t get why it is that costly,” he said, speaking with BusinessDay via phone.

The current guidelines developed by the PTF on Covid-19 for air travel mandate travellers to present a negative Covid-19 PCR result within 72 hours of boarding a flight heading into Nigeria.

Also, travellers must provide evidence of a pre-booked Covid-19 PCR test at an accredited private laboratory in Lagos before arriving in Nigeria, and must be tested seven days after home isolation.

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Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos has 1,280 travellers daily who carry out Covid-19 tests at N50,400 each, amounting to a total N64.512 million. On the other hand, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja has 925 passengers daily paying N45,000 for Covid-19 test, amounting to N41.625 million.

In total, local private labs rake in an average N106.1 million daily, this is considered a travel burden by many air travellers.

On social media platforms, especially Twitter, Nigerians have queried why travellers cannot obtain results from government labs that run the test without charge and why in some instances, private labs compel them to pay an extra charge for ‘mobilisation.’

Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State governor, in a September 18 statement, stated that testing in Lagos would continue to be free for all persons who fit the case definition of the disease. This definition implies people showing symptoms or have had confirmed contact with positive cases.

“Fee-paying testing is only for people who want testing to fulfil a requirement such as for travel or work purposes,” he stated.

According to the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the rationale behind that decision is to ensure public health response to the pandemic is not hampered by personal requests of travellers. In its reaction to claims that the scheme is entangled with fraud, the centre stood by the position that it has ensured prices indicated by these private labs are as subsidised as possible.

“This is similar to current practice in countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, United Arab Emirates and others,” it stated further.

But the move does not sit well with some travellers.

“I’m at NIMR Yaba at the moment. Why do Nigerians have to go to private labs to spend at least N50,000 on Covid-19 test? Does it mean that public funds should only work for Nigerians that are not travelling?” a user tweeted under the handle, @TheManCalled_OG.

Another user, @hollarz, said, “Nigeria makes everything difficult for Nigerians, charging 50k for a test that is mostly free in other countries on arrival. Billions of naira were budgeted for this Covid-19 with no palliatives for the citizens but still subjecting people to more hardship.”

Narrating his experience, a particular traveller to Canada groused that after expending N50,400 on the test, he was surprised no one cared to know his status during his entire trip.
However, when BusinessDay visited Nigeria’s busiest airport in Lagos to get a grasp of the alternatives that Nigerians were exploring to escape the charge, it found out a secret scheme where travel agents and conniving doctors arranged a coronavirus test result was active.

BusinessDay correspondent struck a deal of N25,000 with an agent who promised getting the result out in 48 hours without an actual test.

Although the ports authorities have stiffened its scrutiny of travellers, there are clear indications that outbound travellers going on a long trip won’t stop seeking the backdoor for cheaper results, particularly when they know that some countries care less.