PCR Tests: Who is making the money?

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I am treated for diabetes and high blood pressure by a Jaffna Teaching Hospital physician. The care I get from him is as good as what I had in the US. The physician administrators have over the past few years brought the Jaffna Teaching Hospital to high standard, clean and with many physicians looking at a patient.

I was therefore surprised to hear that PCR Tests 72 hours before a flight have been approved only from Asiri, Nawaloka, Durdans, Lanka Hospital and some relatively unknown and new business establishments. Strangely Military Hospitals are approved for military personnel, but not government hospitals for us. Those like me, from outside Colombo, need to travel early, spend time in Colombo and get our tests done. Getting ourselves dropped off after getting a PCR certificate from a government hospital is not an option. The additional cost (keeping the van in Colombo, ordering food through Uber-Eats, staying at an hotel because with Covid we cannot invite ourselves into homes), can add several tens of thousands of rupees to our travel cost. This country works for Colombo folk only.

Although a home-kit for testing is Rs. 180 (German make), these private hospitals charged Rs. 8,500, but have now reduced it to Rs. 6,500. Who gave them this monopoly? When a passenger is found to have Covid and isolated, the room charges alone are more than the Rs. 12,500 a day; a charge my daughter paid at Jetwing for isolation. 

I understand a negative PCR Result from Jaffna was rejected by an airline. Are our government doctors to be trusted less than businessmen and soldiers?’

I was to travel on July 31, 2021 to the US. My son had found my wife and me a really good deal at $950 to San Francisco and back. We made an appointment at Durdans. We chose Durdans because when my children went to the US over a month ago, it was efficiently done. They had an 8.00 am drive-through appointment, tested while in my vehicle, and were out by 8.10. The results came by email and they flew out the next day.

As for our tests, I received an sms asking me to confirm my details. It had a mistake in my email address, but there was no method of reply. No one answered the main Durdans telephone numbers for me to tell anyone. No one replied my email correction.

Our appointments were at 8.30 and 8.35 am on 30.08.2021. They had overbooked. At 9.00 when I dared to go up and ask the official, I was told something in Sinhalese. I asked her kindly if she would tell me in English or Tamil. She got angry and stopped responding to me after that. Colombo has over 50% Tamil-speakers, but there was no one in the lab who could speak English or Tamil. The hospital with a western name had no one to talk to customers who were not Sinhalese. Strangely most of those who came for the test were Tamils or Muslims. 

My wife, a trained chemist, upset the Durdans technician taking samples by telling her that by touching the box with samples without gloves and then handling samples she was contaminating them.

A person who had a later appointment was called and went away. We were finally called in, tested and given a web-address to check the result “before 5 pm”. The web address did not work. I got my result on paper by going back to Durdans at 5.00 pm, but my wife was asked to return at 7.00 pm. When she did, she was criticised for coming when she had failed the test. She had Corona, she was told. As she felt no symptoms, she asked for a second test. “No point because the result will not change,” she was told. She was threatened with isolation and offered a bed for Rs. 17,500. She quickly walked out before someone held her up.

My wife was devastated. Our trip was ruined. I could not travel alone fearing she might die in my absence. We went to Nawaloka at 9.20 pm, a Hospital with an indigenous name, but people who could speak kindly to non-Sinhalese. The test was repeated. But we had to wait till the 31st for the result.

In the meantime, the airline said she had to cancel the ticket 24 hours ahead – that was 11.30 pm on 30.08.2021. Or it was gone. Fearing the worst we cancelled both our tickets. After all, the odds were that the result would be the same. Fearing being locked up in Colombo, we decided to drive to Jaffna the first thing on the 31st without getting out of the vehicle, report to the PHI and isolate ourselves at home. That would have been cheaper than Durdan’s Rs. 17,500 a day.

Reaching Mankulam, we were told of Nawaloka’s result. She had no corona. It was too late to turn back and report in time for the flight at the airport even if we could get our seats back. We now need to rebook. The low-priced offer is gone. I need to travel to Colombo again. Although Durdans will say that Nawaloka’s result is wrong, going by the number of mistakes Durdans made, I am very confident of the Nawaloka result. I even wonder if our trip was sabotaged for not knowing Sinhalese. I wonder how many others have their trips spoilt like this and then ripped off through high charges for staying in the hospital after being misdiagnosed as a Covid patient. We need to trust our government hospitals and government doctors.

As for us we will miss our son’s birthday on 2 September. Happy Birthday to him in absentia.

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Disclaimer: PCR Tests: Who is making the money? - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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