Wed | Mar 3, 2021

High-priced COVID tests - Ministry baulks at gougers as travellers charged up to US$300

Published:Tuesday | January 26, 2021 | 12:16 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Dr Shanice Mullings swabs the nostrils of Kinolin Rose, a resident of Central Village, on January 13. The St Catherine Health Department was conducting free COVID-19 testing for residents.
Dr Shanice Mullings swabs the nostrils of Kinolin Rose, a resident of Central Village, on January 13. The St Catherine Health Department was conducting free COVID-19 testing for residents.

Health facilities have been partnering with hotels to offer PCR tests for as much as US$300 (J$43,000) following requests from some of Jamaica’s main international travel partners for a negative COVID-19 test from travellers.

A negative PCR test result is required by the United Kingdom and Canada to facilitate travel, while the US, effective today, mandates proof of a negative PCR or antigen test. The prices being quoted for these tests range from J$22,000 to J$43,000, while antigen assessments can cost anywhere between J$6,500 and J$17,000 privately.

PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests are considered the gold standard because of their accuracy. Antigen tests are slightly less precise but have a much faster turnaround in results.

pop-up labs

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton expressed concern on Monday about not only the mushrooming of “pop-up labs” offering these tests but the high costs individuals are being asked to pay.

“[There are a] number of persons now offering tests of all types and using methods that, in some instances, are not validated and charging fees ... that are astronomically high when compared to the cost of these test kits,” Tufton said at a press conference.

He reiterated the need for those offering the tests to be certified or accredited, but hinted that there little could be done to arrest their rise.

“There is no law, particularly if they are a trained clinician, a doctor that would allow us to go in and to sort of confiscate what they have and to sort of enforce in that way,” said Tufton, who is seeking to exert moral suasion on the public to stifle non-compliant operators.

The minister said that only seven laboratories have been approved to carry out antigen testing and several others given the green light to conduct PCR tests. Some labs have multiple locations.

In addition to these sites, the University Hospital of the West Indies also offers tests for a fee. Most of the labs are located in Kingston, Mandeville, and Montego Bay, Tufton reported.

Tufton was unable to say how many laboratories have been accredited locally, but he sought to assure that the approved sites received training through the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and have met the required standards.

In an effort to stem an increase in the unauthorised persons offering COVID-19 tests, the Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation has launched a Pre-Accreditation Approval Programme that is aimed at fast-tracking approvals.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie said that the ministry has also increased the number of health centres in Jamaica that are conducting testing. She said individuals can make an appointment on the JAMCOVID-19 website to get tested.

“Testing within the public sector is free of cost, and this is available to persons who are having problems in terms of complaints,” she said.

List of approved laboratories for antigen and PCR testing

Microlabs Limited (Kingston, Mandeville, and Montego Bay)

Biomedical/Caledonia Medical Lab (Kingston and Montego Bay)

Winchester Surgical and Medical Institute in Kingston

Baywest Hospital in St James

Hospiten in St James

Andrews Memorial Hospital in Kingston

Technological Solutions Limited in Kingston

For PCR

CARIGEN

Microlabs Limited

MD Link in Kingston,

Biomedical Caledonia Labs (Kingston and St James)

Baywest Hospital in St James

Technology Solutions in Kingston