Securing an affordable COVID-19 test for the citizens of Bangladesh
Counterpart’s Promoting Advocacy and Rights (PAR) project in Bangladesh is dedicated to supporting local civil society organizations in addressing governance issues. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, PAR granted Window of Opportunity funds to Light House. With this grant. Light House has worked to convene local and central government representatives, and civil society actors, to ensure transparency and accountability in Bangladesh’s healthcare system. Light House has also worked to ensure marginalized communities are able to access public aid services such as the Government of Bangladesh’s pandemic stimulus package, in the form of food, medical relief, and cash allowances.
During the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 testing was free of charge in Bangladesh. However, on June 29 the Government of Bangladesh began to enforce fees for tests, charging 200 BDT for a test collected from a medical center or hospital, and 500 BDT for a test collected at home.
Light House conducted 3 meetings in August of 2020 to advocate for the reduction of COVID-19 testing fees and ensure that marginalized communities and the unemployed received stimulus aid. The meetings were conducted in Rajshahi, Natore, and the Kahaloo Upazilla of Bogora district. In each meeting, local government authorities attended, including Deputy Commissioners, health and family planning officers, agriculture officers, and the social welfare officers.
Ronen Roy, the president of the civil society organization Sonak, attended one of the meetings and told the government officials in attendance that the “test fee should be stopped, and numbers of tests should be increased. Government officials receive free testing, but the general citizens, do not and it needs to be changed.”
Light House also hosted a press conference in Rajshahi and three TV-based talk shows as opportunities for local government representatives, COVID-19 task force members, and journalists to have a dialogue on the change of test fees, and the inability of economically-disadvantaged citizens to be tested due to the fees.
Thanks to Light House’s diverse and consistent advocacy efforts, the government decided to reduce COVID-19 testing fees in August of 2020. The Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Health announced on August 20th that the fee for tests conducted in medical centers was to be lowered from 200 BDT to 100 BDT, and that for tests conducted at home, the fee would be lowered from 500 BDT to 300 BDT. In lowering testing costs for citizens, the government demonstrates that there is the potential for testing to become free once again, specifically for low-income individuals. The reduction of testing fees is a step towards inclusive government support, and Light House continues to monitor the government’s ability to address citizen’s needs during the pandemic.