Nicaraguans Demand Decentralizing PCR Tests…

…and reducing the cost of US $150

Screenshot at the centralized local for Covid-19 tests.

Nicaraguans pay the highest cost in Central America for a Covid-19 test. It should be possible to do the tests in departments, complained citizens.

Por Cinthya Torrez (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Nicaraguans denounced on social networks about long lines, crowding and disorder in the taking of PCR samples and receiving tests results. These are only carried out at the Health Ministry’s National Center for Diagnosis and Reference in Managua.

From the beginning, the Ministry of Health (MINSA) said the centralization was necessary to improve logistics and prevent the process from becoming a source of contagion. However, the demand of the population continues to be for decentralization of the tests. Citizens also demand a revision of the high costs they must pay for it.

The process is faster now than on Monday, January 26, when the citizen complaint was made known. Taking the test and receiving the results is swift. Confidencial visited the Health Complex and verified that they arranged two large canopies at the far right of a patio. They placed chairs at a certain distance, and on Tuesday, February 9, the former minister Sonia Castro, handed out the test results in person. At the visit, no disorder was observed.

Jorge Valladares was tested and considers that the whole procedure was “quite organized.” He sees it as an evolution, since when it began “it was a disaster,” he compared. Valladares had acquaintances who had taken the tests and they commented on the bad experience they had.

Wester Ruiz, from Estelí, also considered that everything was organized and that it was a safe process. Nothing suffocating, he said.

The general opinion of several people who this Tuesday went to retrieve their results of the PCR tests was quite positive. However, they call into question the need to authorize other places where the test can be carried out. Especially due to the difficulties faced by people who travel from departments located in the north or south of the country, far away from Managua.

Demand for PCR tests in departments

Blanca Centeno travelled from Matagalpa to have a PCR test. She slept one night in Managua and at dawn on Wednesday continued her itinerary to Guatemala. She assures that taking the test and retrieving the results was fast. However, she believes that it would be good to have a closer place where the tests are carried out, since travelling from her department to the capital is more complicated. To this, she adds, the increase in expenses incurred due to transportation  have to be added; which she estimates at about US $60.

The demand for the Covid-19 test is evident for people with travel plans. One of the most common destinations that the people mention is the United States, a country that since January 26 has joined other nations that requested their travelers a negative result of the molecular test to enter their territory.

This Tuesday, the former health minister, and now presidential advisor, Sonia Castro, sanctioned by the United States, handed out the results of the PCR tests at the “Conchita Palacios” National Health Complex.   Photo: Nayira Valenzuela.

Although private sector authorities and independent associations of health specialists have called on MINSA authorities to decentralize the tests, the Ministry has preferred to maintain absolute control of statistics. Most of the data is never public.

Ruiz, from the North, believes it would be “much better” if PCR tests were done in other cities. He explains that not all people have the convenience of having a vehicle, and having to travel from departments such as Estelí, by public transportation, and sometimes, with children, is difficult. “It would be very good if other centers could test,” he said.

Pablo Palacios, another citizen who went there for his results, agrees that the test should be accessible in other departments. However, he suggests that first other facilities should be evaluated for their security measures.

In January there were reports of crowds and disorder in applying the PCR tests. Now, the logistics have improved, assures the population.  Photo: Courtesy / Confidencial

Nicaragua charges the most for tests in Central America

More than 50 people came to the Managua center on Tuesday to retrieve their results. All of them had to pay 150 dollars, which according to the official exchange rate, is equivalent to 5,235.00 cordobas. In Nicaragua, the minimum monthly wage averages between 180 and 200 dollars. However, the cost of PCR tests is the highest in the entire Central American region, notes Confidencial.

Vanessa Gonzalez considers the test quite expensive, saying it should be a little more accessible. At the regional level, the Governments of other countries have authorized more than 185 private laboratories to carry out the tests.

The costs, despite being private, are much lower than those in Nicaragua. For example, in Guatemala the test costs almost 83 dollars and in El Salvador, the average cost is 139 dollars. In Honduras, with an economy similar to Nicaragua, they average 123 dollars. Tests are free from the State in Panama and Costa Rica, the two most developed countries in the region.

The centralization of Covid-19 tests in one facility in Managua makes travel more expensive and difficult for Nicaraguans. No other laboratory has authorization to do testing.

The Government is still silent about the allocation and use of the tests donated by organizations such as the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI).

Likewise, it omits why there is no massive testing of the population. Such widespread testing has obviously not been part of the government’s strategy of prevention and containment of the pandemic. The White Paper released in May 2020 by the government made that clear, as well as Minsa’s pandemic action plan put out in June.

Read more news and features from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.