Indonesians call for cheaper PCR swab tests amid comparisons with India

A health worker conducting a swab test. Photo: Istimewa via Kumparan
A health worker conducting a swab test. Photo: Istimewa via Kumparan

Indonesia’s Health Ministry is defending the relatively steep price of PCR swab tests in the country, following protests triggered by recent reports showing how other countries have made the tests significantly more affordable for the general public. 

The high cost of PCR swab tests in Indonesia has largely been regarded as burdensome throughout the pandemic, with the ministry having capped the maximum price at IDR900,000 (US$62.50). This is about 10 times higher than the cost of a PCR swab test in New Delhi, as reported by English-language Indian news outlet India Today

According to the report, the New Delhi government recently lowered the price of PCR swab tests in the city, whether conducted by private labs or hospitals, which are now capped at 500 rupees or around IDR96,800 (US$6.72). The previous cap was already significantly lower compared to Indonesia’s, at just 800 rupees or around IDR155,000 (US$10.76). 

Earlier this month, Chief Minister of Delhi Arvind Kejriwal wrote in a tweet that the price reduction “will help the common man.” 

The significant gap in PCR test costs in the two countries have been highlighted by Indonesians online, including several public figures such as plastic surgeon/jazz singer Tompi, who pointed out that it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure that the tests are as cheap as possible. 

With the current cost of PCR tests being so high, it’s no wonder that Trade Minister Muhammad Lutfi was chided for suggesting that swab test results should be a requirement to visit malls, for those who have yet to be vaccinated due to underlying health conditions. Many people were upset at Lutfi for reportedly suggesting that those who don’t comply should only visit traditional markets. 

He later provided a clarification, saying that those restrictions were made with air circulation in mind, seeing as how malls are indoor, air-conditioned spaces, compared to traditional markets, which are usually open-air establishments. 

Also Read ⁠— Jakarta malls may reopen for vaxxed citizens as PPKM extended through Aug. 16

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the Health Ministry’s Director of Prevention and Control of Direct Infectious Diseases, said that current regulations on the cost of PCR swab tests were made after numerous careful considerations.

“At the time of determining the [maximum price for] PCR test, consultations with various related parties including auditors had been conducted, so the Health Ministry did not determine [the capped price] itself like that of determining the highest retail price for drugs,” Siti Nadia, who’s also the ministry’s COVID-19 vaccination spokeswoman, said yesterday.

Siti Nadia added that the ministry is open to criticism and suggestions for the possibility of evaluation regarding the price for the PCR swab test.

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