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More than 250 million rapid COVID-19 tests will be made available for low and middle-income countries (LMICs) as part of a World Health Organization (WHO) initiative to accelerate the global response to the virus.
In April 2020, the WHO launched its Access To COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator initiative in efforts to accelerate the development and production of COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines, and to ensure equitable access worldwide to the same.
Three months later, the diagnostics pillar of the ACT-Accelerator called for Expressions of Interest to drive equitable access to fit-for-purpose antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19.
Earlier this month, FIND and Unitaid announced that the first contracts resulting from this call have been finalised.
Philippe Duneton, executive director of Unitaid, said: “Expanding access to rapid, high-quality diagnostics in LMICs, as part of a test and treat approach, is of crucial importance if we are to defeat this pandemic.”
She continued: “The agreements we are announcing today are a vital part of that work, alongside our efforts in country preparedness, ensuring optimal conditions for these tests to be used on the ground.”
The contracts contain commitments related to investments in research and development, including technology transfer, which enable manufacturing capacity to be scaled up. They are expected to result in more than 250 million affordable, high-quality tests being made available for LMICs.
The first agreement was with India-based Premier Medical Corporation, under which the company will expand and automate its manufacturing capacity to allow the antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests to be made available to LMICs for less than $2.50 per test.
Premier Medical is expected to produce 3 million of the tests per month, increasing to 10 million per month by the third quarter of 2021. The company’s enhanced manufacturing capacity can also be used in the future to make affordable tests for other diseases.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, said: “Testing has been our compass in the fight against the pandemic and will continue to play a key role in gauging the effectiveness of vaccinations in communities.”
In LMICs, fragile health systems and reliance on global supply chains have left many healthcare operators unable to access COVID-19 tests. While high-income countries are currently conducting 252 tests per 100,000 people every day, the rate is 10 times lower in LMICs at just 24 tests per 100,000 people.
Catharina Boehme, CEO of FIND, said: “Ensuring LMICs have access to low-cost, high-quality antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests is of vital importance in our work to make sure that everyone who needs a test for COVID-19 can get one.”
The ACT-Accelerator predicts that 500 million COVID-19 diagnostic tests will be needed in LMICs in 2021.
Also on January 22, the WHO announced that it is on track to deliver at least 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of 2021, and at least 1.3 billion of those doses will be to people in lower income economies.
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World Health Organization, COVID-19 rapid diagnostic tests, antigen tests, Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, Unitaid, research and development