Maria Fatima Bona, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has told Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin to find ways to bring down the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test for Covid-19 in the country by a half to help it expands tracing and testing capacity, key measures to curb the pandemic.
The most populous country in Southeast Asia has set a target to conduct 400,000 tests a day but so far had been struggling to hit half of the amount. Experts pointed out high costs of PCR tests, the gold standard for virus detection, prohibit people from taking the test.
Many health facilities offer the test at a price range of around Rp 750,000 to Rp 1,000,000 ($52-$70) per person, with results available in less than 24-hour. That's about seven times the cost of a similar test in India. Cheaper PCR tests are also available, but patients must wait for up to three days for the result.
Jokowi said, ideally, Indonesia should offer the test at half the current price.
"I have spoken to the health minister about this. I ask that the cost of the PCR test is in the range of Rp 450,000 to Rp 550,000," said Jokowi when giving a press statement on Sunday.
"I also ask that the PCR test result is available within 24 hours at most. We need speed," Jokowi said.
Typically, PCR test price accounts for the cost of the PCR test machine, the consumables like the test kits and reagents, labor costs, and taxes. The Ministry of Finance has exempted import tax, value-added tax for PCR tests, and kits as part of the government's healthcare stimulus in the pandemic.
Still, companies find it hard to bring the costs down. Bambang Heriyanto, the corporate secretary and spokesperson at state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma, said the company was still discussing with the Ministry of Health to set the price for its PCR test kits.
"This is because some materials are still imported," Bambang told the Globe's sister publication Beritasatu.com on Sunday.
Bio Farma had been making test kits for PCR machines since last year, Bambang said. According to him, the company has the capacity to make two million PCR test kits per month.
Hermawan Saputra, a board member at the Indonesian Public Health Experts Association (Iakmi), said earlier the association viewed ideally PCR test should be available at a price range similar to the rapid antigen test today.
"I think the ideal price range is Rp 200,000 to Rp 300,000," Hermawan said.
"That price is ideal because there are other costs apart from tools. There are consumable reagents, also labor costs because there must be a volunteer as a swabber as well as testers," Hermawan said.
Hermawan said he believed the consumables would be cheaper if Indonesian companies could make them here.