KUALA LUMPUR, May 7— The Social Security Organisation (Socso) appointed BP Healthcare to test workers for Covid-19 after receiving six quotations, amid criticism of a single service provider appointment.
“Six service delivery quotations were received, of which several criteria such as test readiness, service outreach, MOH (Ministry of Health) recognition as test provider and also the pricing per test.
“This had resulted in the appointment of the current provider for the Phase 1 of the PSP (Prihatin Screening Programme) PERKESO,” Socso said in a statement late last night, without naming BP Healthcare as its service provider.
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.
Health care providers have questioned Socso for authorising only one company — diagnostics and laboratory firm BP Healthcare — to conduct mass testing on migrant workers, numbering over two million in Malaysia, that resulted in massive queues outside BP outlets yesterday.
Socso only authorised 37 BP diagnostic centres nationwide to run PCR tests on foreign workers and local employees working in Covid-19 red or yellow zones, including 10 BP centres in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
The social security fund said it had initially planned to use antibody rapid test kits (RTK) to screen workers for coronavirus, as advised by MOH, after Senior International Trade and Industry Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali said last April 16 that workers from industries approved for operation must be tested at Socso panel clinics.
“This, however, is not feasible as the MOH-recommended RTK-ab kits are not readily available in the country, with delivery expected within 14 to 21 days at best,” said Socso.
“It was within this narrative that Socso had then decided to start with RT-PCR as an immediate measure (called the phase 1 of PSP PERKESO); and to be followed by subsequent phases using the RTK-ab.”
Previously, doctors in the country voiced confusion over the government’s announcement requiring employers to screen their workers for Covid-19 prior to them returning to work after lockdown measures were abruptly eased last May 4, pointing out that general practitioner (GP) clinics have yet to receive the rapid antibody tests, also known as serology tests.
Although MOH’s letter to Socso on April 21 recommended using either gold-standard PCR tests, or antibody tests at private clinics as rapid antigen tests may not be suitable due to the requirement of biosafety cabinets, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah later told CodeBlue that MOH recommended PCR and rapid antigen tests as the first choice for testing migrant workers.
Antibody tests, he said, were more advantageous in identifying Covid-19 spread in the community, rather than for immediate medical intervention as these tests must be done twice within one week.
Socso’s PSP was developed to assist businesses in screening workers for Covid-19 prior to reopening by providing free tests to workers, of which costs would be borne by the social security fund.
Earlier this week, Senior Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said it was now mandatory for all migrant workers to be tested for Covid-19, starting in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, the two Covid-19 epicentres in Malaysia, before they return to work. As for local workers, the government has left it to employers to decide if their staff should be screened. Medical experts, however, have dismissed the need for mass testing, pointing out that people can still get infected even after clearing a single test.