The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is calling on governments to take action to address the high cost of COVID-19 tests in several jurisdictions.
IATA also urged flexibility in permitting the use of cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to more expensive PCR tests.
According to IATA’s most recent traveler survey, 70% also believe that the cost of testing is a significant barrier to travel, while 78% believe governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing.
Though IATA supports COVID-19 testing as a pathway to reopen borders to international travel, it believes testing needs to be easily accessible, affordable, and appropriate to the risk level.
The cost of testing varies widely between jurisdictions, with little relation to the actual cost of conducting the test.
Restarting international travel is vital to supporting the 46 million travel and tourism jobs around the world that rely on aviation.
An IATA sampling of costs for PCR tests (the test most frequently required by governments) in 16 countries showed wide variations by markets and within markets. Of the markets surveyed, only France complied with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for the state to bear the cost of testing for travelers.
Taking the average of the low-end costs, adding PCR testing to average airfares would dramatically increase the cost of flying for individuals. For example, pre-crisis, the average one-way airline ticket, including taxes and charges, cost US$200 (2019 data). A US$90 PCR test raises the cost by 45% to US$290. Add another test on arrival and the one-way cost would leap by 90% to US$380.
The impact of the costs of COVID-19 testing on family travel would be even more severe.
The World Health Organisation’s International Health Regulations stipulate that states should not charge for testing or vaccination required for travel, or for the issuance of certificates.
“Testing costs should not stand between people and their freedom to travel”, IATA and the WHO concur. The wide variance in testing costs should raise flags among governments.
Technology benefits can bridge health infrastructure gaps
The benefits of technology have long been touted, particularly unmanned ariel vehicles (UAVs) that have the potential to bridge health infrastructure gaps by allowing for the delivery and pickup of medication and test kits for patients in all parts of the country irrespective of physical barriers.
Drone technology could see many of our infrastructural challenges such as the no-bed-syndrome being less of an issue.
The rapid delivery of medications, including vaccines right to the end-user could perhaps be the key to limiting outbreaks of life-threatening communicable diseases. In the foreseeable future, it is safe to say that even locally, drones, robots and artificial intelligence will assume many tasks in healthcare that are performed by humans.
However, some have raised fears that the rise in the use of technology could see a sector as critical as healthcare, prone to cyber-attacks. It is inevitable that attempts would be made by ill-intentioned persons to compromise systems, service providers are enjoined to invest heavily in security.
Zipline Country Manager, Naa Adorkor Yawson opines that an even distribution of medical commodities and vaccines to all citizens is crucial.
Institutions such as the World Economic Forum are also hopeful that UAVs could convey communication equipment, mobile technology, and portable shelter, amongst others, in a rapid fashion to areas where critical infrastructure damage would prevent ground or typical air transport.
This will invariably lead to greater efficiency. Vice-President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia has observed that government is using technology to increase the access of Ghanaians to one of the basic public services that every citizen deserves.
The utilization of technology in the provision of quality healthcare for the people is highly commendable, and this revolutionary approach to healthcare delivery will not only lead to saving lives, but would also promote efficiency and significant decrease in wastage in the supply chain system.