How health officials extort travellers over COVID-19 tests | Dailytrust

How health officials extort travellers over COVID-19 tests

There is a growing concern over the activities of health officials at Nigerian airports, forcing travellers to the country to pay for COVID-19 tests...

There is a growing concern over the activities of health officials at Nigerian airports, forcing travellers to the country to pay for COVID-19 tests despite being fully vaccinated.

The affected travellers said that despite having full COVID-19 vaccination certificates, health officials at the airports would tell them that their vaccination details were either partially uploaded  or not uploaded at all  on the online portal, and so, do not allow them leave the airport without paying for “COVID-19 tests.”

The National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) is in charge of COVID-19 vaccination in the country.

The aggrieved travellers queried why they should be made to bear the brunt of mistakes on the part of officials of federal, state and local government primary health care development agencies, as well as health centres that did not upload their details.

Many Nigerians are also wondering why the federal government is persuading people to receive COVID-19 jabs for free but forcing them to pay tens of thousands for Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19.

The PCR is a test to detect genetic material from a specific organism, such as a virus. The test detects the presence of a virus if you have it at the time of the test.

The anger of those being subjected to the test is that while COVID-19 vaccines are available in government-owned health facilities across the country waiting for people, those who want to travel out or come into the country are being forced to go to private laboratories for the PCR test.

 

There are also concerns that COVID-19 tests are done free of charge for inbound and outbound travellers  in other countries, but in Nigeria,  travellers are made to pay for COVID-19 tests with amounts ranging from N40,000 to N50, 000.

This is happening in spite of the fact that the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 had removed the mandatory PCR test for fully vaccinated inbound travellers from April 4.

According to the committee, “In-bound passengers to Nigeria who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are no longer required to carry out COVID-19 PCR test before boarding Nigeria-bound flights.

“Fully vaccinated passengers arriving in Nigeria will not also be required to carry out post arrival PCR test or a Rapid Antigen Test upon arrival in Nigeria.” The chairman of the PSC and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Boss Mustapha, said this while announcing the reviewed provisional travel protocol for travellers arriving Nigeria.

Experiences of travellers

Musa Audu was fully vaccinated and had his card six months before he travelled to the United States of America for few days in April. However, he was shocked when he was asked to pay for a COVID-19 test on his arrival at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on April 27.

He said, “Like other passengers, I showed them my vaccination card to indicate that I had already taken the full dose as recommended by the government of Nigeria to allow for entry.”

He said the challenges he experienced at the airport that day started after the officials scanned his card and said that only the first dose of his COVID-19 vaccination was captured in their online database.

Audu, who was visibly shocked, said he had taken his first dose of the vaccination in Lagos in August 2021. He said he took his second dose at the Area 3 primary healthcare centre in Abuja.

“They said it did not reflect in the online platform during verification, which showed that my vaccination status was partial,” he alleged.

The travel guidelines stipulate that those who have not been vaccinated or partially vaccinated had to pay and do COVID-19 test.

“My explanations that the government officials who administered the second dose had her name and signature on my card fell on deaf ears. The official insisted that for me to leave the airport I must make an immediate payment for two COVID-19 tests, amounting to N80,000,” he said.

Audu said he spent over three hours at the airport calling every relevant government health official he knew and explaining his plight before his details were eventually updated to reflect full vaccination.

He was released to go home about 12:30 am the next day.

He added that other passengers who were not that lucky had to pay despite being fully vaccinated.

“I think there is a serious racketing there because those who paid were not accompanied to go to the lab to ensure that they were tested. It appears that the motivation behind the protocol is monetary and not the safety of Nigerians,” he said.

Marcus Olarewaju, who returned to Nigeria in March, was made to pay N79,000 on arrival for COVID-19 tests.

He said he didn’t pay for the test in another smaller African country.

He said, “When I arrived at Houphouet Boigny International Airport, Abidjan from Nigeria, they collected my COVID-19 test conducted in Nigeria and subjected me to another instant test at the point of entry, at no cost.

“However, when I arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport from  Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, on March 1, 2022, the officials stopped me at the first point of entry, asking for a “Travel Permit form” print out, which I hadn’t  filled.

“They led me into a hall where they instructed me to fill a form manually and make an instant payment of N79,000, having taken only one COVID-19 jab, which they called ‘partially vaccinated’.

“For those that are fully vaccinated, they were charged N39,500 for a single COVID-19 test despite presenting them with test results we all conducted in Abidjan, 24 hours before arrival.

“I was allowed to leave after paying the N79,000, and a day after, I received a text message that I should make myself available for post arrival COVID-19 PCR test at a designated private laboratory in Abuja. I have not done the tests three months after, and nobody looked for me,” he said.

Olarewaju said some Customs and Immigration officers told him that the situation had been causing chaos at the airport, leaving them with angry passengers to manage.

“Most passengers would come here fighting us, complaining that their money was collected without conducting any test.

“How can they detain a passenger here and ask him to go to a far distance laboratory for a test? The scandalous part is that no security will be attached to ensure that the passenger was tested before reuniting with his family,” he said.

A traveller who is a citizen of the Central African Republic, Issouf Abdoulaye, told our correspondent that on arriving at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport on March 1, 2022, he was detained by health officials despite presenting the online copy of his travel permit form as demanded by the centre.

His travel permit form, which was seen by our reporter, showed that he was fully vaccinated from his home country.

However, the officials whisked him into the hall and asked him to fill another form manually, after which he paid for another COVID-19 test.

 “I am even afraid to come to Nigeria now because these people always make excuses to collect my hard earned money,” he said.

Another traveller who simply asked to be identified as Maria lamented that she had to pay for a COVID-19 test on arrival despite being fully vaccinated and showing the officials her vaccination card. Maria returned to Nigeria two weeks ago.

She was told that her vaccination details were not uploaded online; therefore, she must pay.

‘Many things not right in Nigeria’

An activist, Mohammed Ali, said many things were not normal in Nigeria.

“The question is: Who authorises the so-called health officials to hold passengers hostage until they pay?”

“Besides, why are people being asked to go to private laboratories for PCR tests? Why not at the government facilities where you get the COVID-19 test for free?” he asked.

 Fully vaccinated outbound travellers not required to do COVID-19 test – NCDC

When contacted to comment on some of the suspicious activities, the director-general of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Ifedayo Adetifa, said the most recent Nigerian COVID-19 travel protocol as can be found in the following link does not require COVID-19 testing for travel outside of Nigeria: http://covid19.ncdc.gov.ng/media/files/Revised_Travel_protocol_revised_2nd_April_2022.pdf

He said the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lives and livelihoods across the globe had promoted the activation of country-specific protocols to limit transmission of the virus locally and globally.

He said, “Just like Nigeria does, all other countries put in place their own COVID-19 travel protocols.”

He said COVID-19 testing for outbound travel, where it occurs, is a requirement by the country of intended travel and does not target just intending passengers from Nigeria.  

“While Nigeria’s travel protocol is focused on inbound travellers, we advise travellers out of the country to adhere strictly to the travel protocols of their destination country or travel routes regardless of their vaccination status,” he said.

Asked why  COVID-19 tests are not done  free of charge in public testing centres/hospitals for international travellers instead of  private labs, he said, “Testing in government-funded laboratories remains free of charge for public health purposes. This was done to ensure that government resources are prioritised for the sole purpose of detecting the presence of the virus among suspected cases that present serious illness and need prompt clinical care.

“Testing for personal purposes such as travelling is paid for by individuals and conducted in private laboratories. This has effectively reduced the burden on government laboratories, and thus, the turn-around time for COVID-19 results as well,” he said.

The NCDC boss added that his organisation had worked with all states, relevant stakeholders and partners to establish capacity and ensure access to testing for Nigerians.

Also, in an earlier statement, Dr Adetifa said that in spite of the fact that the NCDC hosts the Nigeria International Travel Portal (NITP), in its domain, all funds for COVID-19 testing purposes are paid through the bank to accredited private laboratories.

He said no fund from private testing was received by the NCDC for COVID-19 testing for pre and post-arrival in Nigeria.

He said the NITP was developed by the private sector and managed by Nigerians in the public sector as one of the several measures introduced to limit the risk of importation and spread of COVID-19 in the country.

 

Ojoma Akor, Hamisu Kabir Matazu & Sunday Michael Ogwu

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