The price of a pandemic

Monday Musing

[ Tongam Rina ]

Since 1 September, the government of Arunachal has imposed testing fees for Covid-19 statewide at all government-run facilities.

Whoever is tested will have to pay fees ranging from Rs 250 to Rs 2,400.

While there is exemption of charges for BPL cardholders, elders above 60 years of age, children below 10 years of age and government employees on official duty, the rest will have to pay.

The charge for rapid antigen tests for non-tribals is Rs 500 per test, while it is Rs 250 per test for APSTs and central and state government employees.

For the non-APSTs, the RT-PCR/TrueNat testing charge has been fixed at Rs 2,400 per test, while it is Rs 2,000 per test for APSTs and central and state government employees.

Assam, which has the highest number of cases in the region with 1,55,000, has kept testing free for all at government facilities, and so has Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland and Mizoram. In most of these states, there is a fee for those who get tested on demand.

In Sikkim, testing is free for the Sikkimese.

There is no reason why the Arunachal government should not make testing free for all, like it is in the rest of the region. It is really not appropriate to make citizens pay for testing during a pandemic, even if the economy of the state is not in a very comfortable situation.

For many, the fee itself will dissuade them from getting checked. A villager, an unemployed, or a worker with no fixed source of income won’t be able to afford the fees. For some, money is not a concern, but for those struggling financially, Rs 250 and Rs 500 are a lot of money, and Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,400 are definitely out of reach.

Worryingly, the government has prepared separate charges for different groups of people. It is rather enraging to see such discrimination during a pandemic. Both may be carriers of the virus and the degree of pain and fear of a tribal and a non-tribal is the same. The virus won’t have time to ask who has a certificate.

On the other hand, even the government employees are not spared. Why should the government employee pay any money when most of them have been working without a break since March? Is the government planning to give them some bonus for overtime since March?

As the numbers of the infected are increasing, more so in the state capital region, there will be a drastic need to increase testing. The Itanagar capital region (ICR) accounts for 2,486 total cases, with 779 active cases. The ICR accounts for more than the total active positive cases in the other districts of the state. Of the 1,343 in Covid care centres and Covid hospitals across the state, 546 are in the capital region alone. More positive cases are an indication of intensive testing.

Testing-wise, Arunachal is one of the best performing states in the country, and the mortality rate is less. Altogether 2,15,892 people have been tested in the state since testing was started in early March, according to government figures.

As the number of cases is increasing, the state government should immediately stop charging fees and look for other alternatives to raise money for medical expenses. Those who are not in a position to pay should not be charged. The government may consider accepting charges from those who volunteer to pay.

Let healthcare be accessible to all and not only to those who can afford it.