COVID-19 in Mumbai: No mandatory testing for kidney, cancer patients

Updated: Apr 17, 2020, 08:03 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

A high-powered committee on Thursday decided that dialysis and chemotherapy patients need to be tested only if necessary

Patients wait for COVID-19 test at a dialysis centre in Chembur on Thursday morning
Patients wait for COVID-19 test at a dialysis centre in Chembur on Thursday morning

A committee appointed by the state government has overridden the BMC's directives to mandatorily test cancer and kidney patients before their treatment. The civic body's move had put additional financial burden on the patients as several had to send their samples to private labs that charge Rs 4,500 per COVID-19 test.

We had a lot of discussion on this matter. We are of the view that it is impractical to compel dialysis and chemotherapy patients for a mandatory COVID-19 test. We have also considered the difficulties they have to face otherwise on a day to day basis," Dr Sanjay Oak, head of state-appointed task force committee for COVID-19 patient management, told mid-day.

Dr Oak, former dean of KEM Hospital, added, "We are of the opinion that health of these patients should be closely monitored for any signs of fever, cough, or breathing distress, and only if necessary, they be advised to get themselves tested for the novel Coronavirus." Dr Oak also agreed that as most dialysis patients are senior citizens, mandatory testing would have been a burden.

As the announcement, bringing relief to the patients, came on Thursday evening, those who had their sessions in the morning had to wait in long queues for the COVID-19 test.

Dialysis patient pays Rs 4,500

A senior citizen from Chembur, on condition of anonymity, told mid-day that she had her weekly dialysis session on Thursday but it was postponed by two days, because she needed to undergo COVID-19 test. "The technician informed that as per BMC directives it was mandatory to undergo COVID-19 test at the centre, which will be conducted by a private laboratory."

The patient, in her sixties, added that she waited for over three hours for the test. "They could have called us in small batches. Ninety percent of the patients were senior citizens, some handicapped too. Many had to rush to nearby ATMs to withdraw money as it was cash payment only," she added.

"This is a huge financial burden; dialysis cost R1,200 per session, new dialysis kit is needed after seven-eight sessions that costs R900 and now COVID-19 test costs R4,500. It [Coronavirus] surely is a rich man's disease," she added.

Lucky day for Fernandes

Godfrey Fernandes, a 40-year-old resident of Sahar village, said his father Sunny Fernandes, 67, has been on dialysis for the past three years and has three sessions a week. However, recently, Sunny missed a session at Millat Nursing Home in Jogeshwari West, which closed after a staffer tested positive, and had to be hospitalised.

A patient wait for COVID-9 test at a dialysis centre in ChemburA patient wait for COVID-9 test at a dialysis centre in Chembur

"Last week, Millat directed us to a private laboratory for COVID-19 test. Both our reports came back negative," Godfrey said, adding, "My father had to be hospitalised a few days later as he missed his dialysis session when Millat closed. We have already spent over Rs 88,000 on his treatment and cannot afford any more expensive tests. Thankfully, the private laboratory didn't charge us for the test."

Godfrey said he is "not sure if we have to repeat the test". Surana Sethia Hospital Managing Director Dr Prince Surana also said there was a need for a clarity. "If the dialysis patients get tested today, it doesn't mean they will stay protected. They are vulnerable even after the test report comes back negative once. Multiple tests are needed but it is not financially feasible for many."

Dr Prashant Rajput, a senior nephrologist at Parel's Global Hospitals also raised a concern about the cost. "The city has approximate 10,000 dialysis patients aged between two to 80 years, and majority of them are above 50 years and belong to the lower middle class. Only 10 percent of the patients can afford the additional cost," he said. Dr Rajput added, "On an average, a patient requires two to three dialysis a week and one session costs around Rs 2,000. An additional test worth R4,500 will surely put financial stress on them." When asked if the state government and the BMC should intervene and provide some concessions or free service to the elderly patients, Dr Rajput said, "The Task Force appointed by the government should consider this".

Free only at civic hospitals

BMC Deputy Executive Health Officer Dr Daksha Shah said the COVID-19 test is free at the designated civic hospitals, "however, in case of private laboratory, where people can afford to pay, will have to pay R4,500 as per the approved norms".

When informed that a private labo in the Western Suburbs did not charge a dialysis patient, Dr Shah said, "The assistant municipal commissioner were given power to tie up with certain private laboratories, because initially, a lot more samples were coming for testing. It is possible the patient wasn't charged because of the tie-up."

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