Bengaluru: The Supreme Court has ordered private labs to conduct COVID-19 tests free of cost. 

It said, “Private hospitals including labs have an important role to play in containing the scale of the pandemic by extending philanthropic services in the hour of national crisis.”

But private labs complain that they can’t afford to conduct free tests as they have to pay their lab technicians, equipment and material costs. 

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, MD of Biocon said, “Supreme Court Orders All Coronavirus Tests To Be Made Free - a judgement that will severely affect testing. Pvt labs simply cannot be expected to run their businesses on credit. Humanitarian in intent but impractical to implement - I fear testing will plummet.” 

Well, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and people like her have openly said that free testing by private labs free of cost is simply no solution. They cite reasons like running costs, paying lab technicians, rent, equipment and material costs. They even add that insurance companies should pitch in, with a bid to lessen the burden on diagnostic centres. 

But what it the way out? 

If one goes on ruminating on the subject and to extricate the private labs out of this mess, one converges on the CSR or corporate social responsibility aspect. 

“We feel government or corporates through their CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds should reimburse Rs 2,000-2,500 to private labs so that their material costs are recovered. Alternatively, ICMR or state governments should provide testing kits, sample collection materials and PPE for private labs to do free testing. Also, MRP for PCR kits, RNA extraction kits, VTM sample tubes should be fixed too,” said    GSK Velu, Neuberg Diagnostics CEO. 

For a country like India, with a gargantuan population, testing is inevitable. The more tests, the better. It is only after testing that the treatment starts. 

And there are others who say that the government should reimburse the private labs and the owners of these private labs must talk to the government and hasten the process of reimbursement. 

Rs 4500 per test is humongous and exorbitant. For example, a family of four with one earning member has to spend Rs 4500*4 – that is Rs 18 thousand to get themselves tested. Naturally, if they can’t afford it, they would not get themselves tested, putting an entire society in danger. 

In countries like Germany, many private labs have come forward to offer their services during this crisis. 

In India too, private labs play a crucial role as an auxiliary and ancillary unit. 

We request them to sort out the issues with the government and continue to provide free testing. We do understand they have practical problems, but if they don’t pitch in, the matters will only get worse.