Health Providers Question BP ‘Monopoly’ Over Migrant Workers’ Covid-19 Testing

By Boo Su-Lyn |

Socso only authorised 10 diagnostic centres — all BP Healthcare — in KL and Selangor to do coronavirus screenings, with an estimated 800,000 foreign workers.

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KUALA LUMPUR, May 7 — Health professionals urged the Social Security Organisation (Socso) to expand providers of coronavirus screening for migrant workers beyond BP Healthcare, amid long queues for testing.

Malaysians have been posting photographs and videos of lines of people in close contact — reportedly up to 1.2km long at BP’s diagnostic centre in Glenmarie, Selangor — outside various BP outlets under the sun or in alleyways, after the government made it compulsory for all foreign workers to undergo Covid-19 tests.

According to Socso’s list of service providers for Phase 1 of its Covid-19 screening programme, Program Saringan Prihatin (PSP) — which targets foreign workers and employees of companies operating in Covid-19 red or yellow zones — only 37 diagnostic centres, all by laboratory company BP, have been authorised nationwide to do PCR tests.

In Selangor, the country’s most developed state, just six diagnostic centres for the first phase of Socso’s PSP were listed — BP Diagnostic (Klang), BP Specialist Center (Glenmarie), BP Diagnostic (Rawang), BP Diagnostic (Subang Jaya), BP Diagnostic (Seri Kembangan), BP Diagnostic Centre Sdn Bhd (Kajang).

Only four diagnostic centres were approved by Socso in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur — BP Diagnostic Centre Sdn Bhd (Kepong), BP Diagnostic Centre Sdn Bhd (Pudu), BP Diagnostic Centre Sdn Bhd (Cheras), and BP Diagnostic (OUG).

There are more than two million registered migrant workers in Malaysia, with the Malaysian Medical Association estimating that 40 per cent are based in the Klang Valley. This means that there are at least 800,000 documented foreign workers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor alone, who can only be tested at the 10 BP diagnostic centres appointed by Socso. The social security fund bears the cost of Covid-19 tests under the PSP.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia (MPCAM) president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said the Ministry of Health (MOH) has been training private general practitioners (GPs) to conduct PCR tests the past one month, the same gold-standard tests used by BP diagnostic centres in Socso’s first phase of the PSP. Batches of 50 GPs have been trained every fortnight.

PCR tests require samples to be taken from a person’s nose or throat that are then sent to a laboratory, with results obtained within 24 to 48 hours. These tests detect current coronavirus infection.

“When you have general practitioners trained to do it, why aren’t the private clinics being used so that screening can be done in a systematic and safer way?” Dr Raj Kumar questioned.

“Monopoly in any business is bad as it doesn’t allow free competition.”

Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah, president of the Medical Practitioners Coalition of Malaysia (MPCAM)

“Long queues and poor social distancing can bring rampant spread of Covid from unknowingly positive patients while waiting among those waiting in line and even members of the public. Quality may be compromised due to huge volumes with limited resources by the facility,” Dr Raj Kumar told CodeBlue yesterday.

Thomson Hospital Kota Damansara CEO Nadiah Wan said she didn’t believe that Socso intended to give BP Healthcare a monopoly as such.

“It’s just that, prior to Covid, most of their panel providers are GP clinics and very few hospitals, and BP is the main lab,” Nadiah told CodeBlue yesterday.

“Now during Covid, none of the GPs are able to do Covid PCR, so they rely on BP exclusively.”

According to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) list of laboratories that run PCR tests for Covid-19, besides BP Clinical Lab Sdn Bhd (Glenmarie branch), six other private facilities nationwide were listed: Lablink (M) Sdn Bhd (KPJ), Pantai Premier Pathology Sdn Bhd, Neogenix Laboratories Sdn Bhd, Clinipath (M) Sdn Bhd, Sunway Medical Centre, and Gribbles Pathology Sdn Bhd.

Nadiah urged Socso to empanel other laboratories who can do Covid-19 screenings, saying: “Anyone trained to do swabs by MOH can take the swab and send it to any of these labs.”

Socso CEO Mohammed Azman Aziz Mohammed did not reply to CodeBlue’s email asking why no other laboratories were appointed for the first phase of the PSP screening.

Human Resources Minister M. Saravanan said in a statement yesterday that Socso’s PSP has registered more than 298,000 workers and tested at least 44,500 for Covid-19 as of May 5. He also confirmed that while Phase 1 of the PSP uses PCR tests, Phase 2 will utilise rapid antibody tests at PSP panel clinics.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and Universiti Malaya medical experts have said it is unnecessary to test all workers for Covid-19 before returning to work, pointing out that people can get infected even after testing negative once.

CodeBlue reported yesterday complaints from doctors groups that GP clinics have yet to receive the antibody rapid test kits from Socso, even as millions returned to work after the Movement Control Order (MCO) was lifted last Monday.

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