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PCR tests: patients left at the mercy of private labs

July 16, 2012

RAWALPINDI, July 15: Two Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines for conducting pathological tests of dengue, hepatitis, tuberculosis (TB) and AIDS installed at Benazir Bhutto Hospital and Holy Family Hospital have been lying idle for the last seven months due to alleged apathy of Punjab government which failed to release funds for buying kits (strips of eight PCR tubes each containing reaction mixture).

Sources told Dawn on Sunday that the PCR machines worth Rs100 million were installed in 2010 but they became useless seven months ago as the kits were not available with hospitals’ administration and the provincial government said it had no funds for buying the kits.

They said that more than 500 people visited the two hospitals daily to get treatment of liver-related diseases but they were forced to get the tests done from the private laboratories as the PCR machines at the hospitals were not offering the facility.

According to the doctors, the private laboratories charged Rs4, 000 to Rs5, 000 per PCR test (qualitative) which was done to detect the presence of viruses in blood and Rs8, 000 to Rs10, 000 for quantitative test which was prescribed to trace their quantity. However, the government hospitals charged Rs2, 500 to Rs3, 000 for the tests, respectively.

Doctors were of the view that it was necessary for the patients to get the tests done as they enabled the physicians to know whether the virus count was increasing or decreasing in the patients’ bodies.

They said that at least three to four tests were conducted during six-month duration of treatment for dengue, hepatitis and tuberculosis (TB) which cost heavily on the poor patients.

“If the facility was available at the public hospitals, it would help the patients allowing them to spend the saved money on their nutrition,” they said and added that the test results of the private laboratories were not very reliable.

The patients and their attendants, on the other hand, complained they had to get the tests done from the private laboratories that made burning holes in their pockets.

“I had to get a loan from my office for my treatment even at the government-run hospital because the tests consumed a lion’s share of my meager income,” said Irfan Naz, a Hepatitis-C patient at BBH, while talking to Dawn.

Tahir Raja said that his mother was suffering from TB and doctors needed the PCR test reports to examine her disease. He added that he had to pay Rs10, 000 at a private laboratory during last two months for getting the tests done.

Benazir Bhutto Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Asif Qadir Mir said the PCR machine at the hospital was in working condition but non-availability of kits forced the administration to stop it.

He further said the hospital administration had requested the provincial government to provide either funds or kits so that people could benefit from the facility. He added that kits were expensive and the hospital administration was not able to spare so much money from its allocated funds to purchase them.

Holy Family Hospital Medical Superintendent Capt (retired) Dr Mohammad Fayyaz said the hospital administration would make the machine operational soon after the release of funds from the provincial government.

He added that one kit conducted tests of 95 patients and it was too expensive to purchase by the hospital administration through its own funds. He claimed the provincial government was working on the procurement of kits for all the government-run hospitals in the province and hoped the hospital would get its share soon.