Why are coronavirus tests so expensive?


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To compound this problem, nationalism has raised its head and most countries are demanding a policy of ‘Me first’. I well remember the example of the Polio epidemic and its resolution – a small group of scientists working sacrificially found the solution, offered it free to any firm who wanted to manufacture it for distribution and it was made available virtually free to the whole world. I can remember lining up at school and taking the drops into my mouth.

It costs anything up to US$300 to get a Covid test. Here in Zimbabwe we seem to have settled at about US$70 a test – a bit better but still totally unaffordable to the great majority of our people. This has been compounded by Governments who have made it compulsory to get on a plane or cross a border, even though the test is not accurate. What is involved? Go to a tent, a person comes up to you in what looks like a space suit, sticks a tiny swab of cotton wool on a stick worth about 5 cents up your nose and then charges you a month’s income with instructions to collect the result from a laboratory somewhere. What is the cost? Maybe US$3 to US$5 a test? Good money to me. In the UK it costs nearly US$300 for a test if you are not in the system for free health care. Are they charging the NHS these ridiculous rates?

Chaos across the world and in the process we have destroyed the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people and made some very wealthy people even more wealthy than before. As for the poor, they are left to cope both with the disease and the aftermath of panic in Government circles and among the elite. Herd immunity has already been established in most poor countries, simply because the majority of us have had the disease and survived. The vaccines are not going to help in any significant way.

It comes back to how do we, who live in the forgotten world, deliver health services to our majority? Our resources are tiny and our infrastructures totally inadequate?

It requires some very tough decisions. First we have to recognise that we live in an unequal world. Every country has to have a private medical system that can deliver a first world standard of care when required and if you can pay for it. Tick that box; we have a small but very sophisticated medical system that serves about 1,2 million people or about 8 per cent of our population. Countries have no choice, if you want people with international skills and capacity to live in your country and make their living here, then you have to have such facilities.

This case moves to our Universities. There is no point in producing doctors without first world skills. This takes a long time and requires Universities and medical Schools at international level. The problem then is that you have to be prepared for the majority of your graduates to leave the country and work elsewhere if you cannot match their demands. We have long depended on skills from abroad, some have started to come home from the Diaspora with skills and experience and even capital, but they all go into the private sector.

This then leaves us with responsibility for the State funded system that must operate on a very limited budget and yet try to meet the needs of over 90 per cent of our population.

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The Insider

The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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