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Uganda Cuts Cost of COVID Test From $65 to $50

FILE - A Ugandan health worker takes samples to test a truck driver for the coronavirus, at the Malaba Border Post in Malaba, Uganda, April 29, 2020.
FILE - A Ugandan health worker takes samples to test a truck driver for the coronavirus, at the Malaba Border Post in Malaba, Uganda, April 29, 2020.

Uganda has reduced the cost of a COVID-19 test from $65 to $50, a move welcomed by truck drivers in the East African region. Business had been brought to a standstill at the border between Kenya and Uganda, with trucks backed up over 60 kilometers due to the high cost of COVID-19 testing.

In August, Uganda instituted a cost-recovery fee of $65 for COVID-19 testing for some categories of individuals and organizations.

The move caused an uproar, especially among truck drivers transporting goods within the East African region, since Uganda is a major transit route for countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Kenya.

In a statement issued Saturday, Uganda’s Health Ministry explained the fee cut, saying that the cost of transporting laboratory testing kits and other supplies from the manufacturer to Uganda has been reduced with resumption of international flights.

Dr. Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Health, explained to VOA how the cost for tests came down.

“The basis for the cost was actually the cost incurred while procuring and transportation and all those logistical costs, and therefore it was very expensive. But now, the airport opened. But also remember that at the beginning, few companies that were manufacturing. But over time, we have seen more companies come on board, therefore the tests are easily available and therefore the cost even has come down,” Atwine said.

Last week, the East African Business Council called for an end to mandatory testing of truck drivers within the East African region. In a statement, the council argued that this would ease congestion, which is stifling cross-border trade and reducing trade volumes, just when the region is struggling to recover from the pandemic.

Ayebare Kenneth, the chairman of the Cargo Consolidators Association, told VOA that the cost cut is a welcome move, considering that countries such as Kenya are carrying out free testing while Rwanda has been charging $50.

“You see, $15 (the amount of the reduction) might look small, but when the containers are many…. Every driver I pay $15 extra, it’s a lot of money. Because I pay them road toll, every container about $50. So, plus $65, I am going to around $115. And that reduction might seem small, but then, for us it’s big, according to continuous business we are doing.” Kenneth said.

With long lines and almost a week of waiting, especially at the Busia and Malaba crossings, as truck drivers waited for free COVID-19 testing by Kenya, those who had to test on the Ugandan side of the border allegedly started paying bribes to brokers.

The Health Ministry says, even though they have not gathered any evidence, they have found some forged COVID-19 test results.

“We are working with Kenyan government to ensure that we stamp out any area of the fraud. So, we cannot have someone coming, in claiming that these are tests done in Uganda and we are not able to detect,” Atwine said. He added that East African countries are working on a system that they can all use so that the results are uploaded to minimize fraud and other activities.