As the Covid19 vaccine is increasingly released and we wait for a scale of supply and effectiveness that adequately minimises the threat of the virus, the virus itself is still a potent threat to billions of people worldwide and over a hundred million Nigerians. This means that Covid19 testing is still an important part of what people need for proper diagnosis and treatment and the high cost of the tests in private laboratories was the focus of a petition to the Lagos State House of Assembly .
The cost of a COVID-19 PCR test varies across private laboratories and is supposed to range between N36,000 to N50,400.
It’s uncomfortable for tests to cost close to the equivalent of the average worker in Lagos’ monthly salary but how exactly would we want the call for price control by the state government to be heeded? Is the test’s price adequately reflective of what it cost the private laboratories to buy and dispense them or is this due to price-gouging in response to high demand?
These are important questions because price-controls negatively affect demand if they make for unuseful profit margins.
The pharmaceutical industry is usually well-prepared for a range of contingencies but the relative novelty and quick spread of the Covid19 virus mean that we have to play catch-up for a while until the Industry players get a grip on cost-effective manufacture and supply of medical products that can mitigate the effects and spread of the virus or cure it completely.
We prepare for what we believe that we will have to deal with and this means that the arrival of what we don’t expect is likely to meet us vulnerable. This is the condition that the pharmaceutical industry found itself in with the emergence of the Covid19 virus.
In the US and elsewhere, health insurance helps sort out these issues. Insurance companies provide risk mitigation and have the capacity to get involved in partnerships with the pharmaceutical companies that help the supply side intending to reduce their overall exposure to large-scale insurance payouts. Over here, our cultural disinclination to long-term planning has left us bereft of the heft and flexibility needed to deal with foreseen disasters so we were always going to struggle with unforeseen circumstances like Covid19.
The conversation around the costs and availability of tests should be balanced to solve the current issue and prepare a foundation to help face future issues. The health insurance topic has to be placed on the front burner. Our population must be in tune with the scale of what’s laid out to serve it. If 100 million Nigerians pay N500 as monthly health insurance premiums, that gives a monthly stream of 50 billion Naira that could go to developing a healthcare system that meets our present needs and can prepare for unforeseen situations like COVID-19. It goes without saying that these streams are not to be allowed anywhere near the hands of those in government.
These are the types of market-led options that can lift Nigeria. We have been lucky with Covid19 which has killed over half a million Americans but has had a much smaller impact on Nigeria but there’s no telling when luck like this would run out so we should be prepared.