Socso Adding Covid-19 Screening Providers, Cancels Antibody Tests

Socso will appoint more service providers, besides BP Healthcare, to run PCR tests on migrant workers in the construction sector and on Covid-19 red-zone workers.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 11 — The Social Security Organisation (Socso) will be recruiting more service providers for its workers’ Covid-19 screening programme, besides dropping rapid antibody tests initially meant for private clinics.

The social security fund acknowledged the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) latest guidelines that only recognised PCR tests, after CodeBlue reported an FAQ by MOH’s Private Medical Practice Control Section (CKAPS) that only allowed private clinics to use the gold-standard PCR tests, which require collaboration with laboratories, to prevent medicolegal issues in screening for the coronavirus.

Socso also highlighted the National Security Council’s (NSC) decision during a May 8 meeting on the same matter.

“Socso takes the recommendation for the Covid-19 screening method for high-risk workers seriously. Therefore, Socso will conduct Covid-19 screening using the RT-PCR method only and not the RTK (rapid test kit) Antibody,” Socso said in a statement last Saturday.

“The screening will be carried out by existing service provider, as well as other service providers that will be appointed by Socso to enable a more efficient service delivery.

“The Covid-19 test is compulsory for foreign workers in the construction sector or those working in the red zones only.”

The social security fund made the decision to drop the antibody RTK even before it managed to utilise these tests at general practitioner (GP) clinics, as doctors groups complained last week that they still haven’t received test kits from Socso.

Socso said previously the first phase of its Prihatin Screening Programme (PSP) uses PCR tests that are currently provided exclusively by laboratory company BP Healthcare. Health care providers have criticised BP’s purported monopoly over Covid-19 screening for migrant workers, as over-run diagnostic centres (just 10 in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor) saw long queues with little safe distancing.

Malaysiakini reported companies’ complaints about the delay of BP test results for two weeks, as well as the cancellation of appointments because of a shortage of test kits. Tests were even reportedly done along a walkway outside the premises of BP’s Kepong outlet.

PCR tests detect active coronavirus infection and hence, are used to diagnose Covid-19, but lab results take 24 to 48 hours. Rapid antibody tests, on the other hand, require a simple pin-prick procedure to draw a drop of blood, but they can only detect a previous infection and, as such, require two negative tests within a week before a worker can go to work.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) said in a statement Friday that Covid-19 testing was only mandatory for migrant workers in the construction industry that would be done through Socso’s PSP. The screening is free for employers registered with Socso.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has slammed the apparent “flip flop” in Malaysia’s Covid-19 testing policies, saying the government must be clear on which business sectors will be targeted for screening and who will be screening these workers.

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