There is a legitimate need to expand testing of COVID-19, says Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar Shaw

With the coronavirus now spreading at an alarming rate, accredited private labs would be allowed to test for Covid-19. However, this has raised several questions regarding costs, sanitation, hygiene etc.

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson and managing director of Biocon; Viren Shetty, ED & group COO of Narayana Health and Naresh Trehan, CMD of Medanta in an interaction with CNBC-TV18 tried to clear some of the doubts.

Mazumdar Shaw said, “There is a legitimate need for expanding capacity of testing, which the government clearly recognises now. There is concern that if we don’t have some controls, things could run amok because there will be attempts to profiteer under this situation of panic. I also believe that we need to be very judicious about who is tested. I don’t think there is any need for everybody to be tested. So, from that point of view I think there is justification in what the government is concerned about. Having said that, I do believe that the private sector has to be a partner in this whole battle against this invisible enemy as it is often referred to.”

She further added, “We do have a large number of labs in the private sector which can test the Coronavirus and we need to put in place the capacity. Now as far as whether it is free or not, the understanding was if the government supplies the private sector with kits there is a possibility that some of the labs might be able to waive off their service charges and just do the test for free. By and large I think this whole question on whether free or not can be solved by maximum retail price (MRP) and also controlling it through prescription based diagnostic.”

“So peace can be the way forward. Government is willing to listen to whatever model the private sector comes up with,” she said.

Trehan said, “Most definitely we need to test wider and if the need be that the private labs need to be recruited – then definitely they should be. You can fix a price. If you do the exact costing of what it will take for the labs to collect the samples – one of the dangers that I have heard from the private labs is that if a large number of people are suspected to be Coronavirus, descent on their labs then they don’t have the capacity to deal with them. So the proposal is that they should pick up the samples from home in a viral transport medium, do the test and deliver the results. The real cost can be easily calculated. There are enough labs in this country who have the PCR and all the capabilities.”

He further added, “If we are all on the same platform, we have the same rules of the game the same cost price – I would go a little further – there are some people who will not be able to afford and who need it so every lab can volunteer 10 percent of the test or x number of test to do free, so that will help the people who are unable to afford it. So this is a time for us to put our heads together and in our CSR, we should be able to help or assist the people and the government in achieving the objective of trying to contain it.”

When asked how to prevent profiteering in such situation Shetty said, “In terms of profiteering at the time of panic there is nothing you can do to prevent that, but the fact is government has all the ability to fix the prices of the test and the other one is we are a free market. If you allow every private lab to do the test, some labs will decide they are five star labs, they will charge more for it, some labs will decide we will charge it at the budget and for those who can’t afford it they can go to the government labs anyway for the past two months the government labs have been doing it for free. The problem is we are very under testing our population, we are doing only 5 test per million people so we have to take a more aggressive response to this because this is a very aggressive disease.”

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