Around 120 million rapid tests for Covid-19 will be made available to poorer countries for 5 US dollars each, the World Health Organization announced on Monday – if it can find the money.
WHO said the $ 600 million program would allow low and middle income countries to fill the dramatic gap in testing for the new coronavirus, which has killed more than a million people since it was first recorded in China in December Has.
The rapid tests, which will be distributed to 133 countries over the next six months, are not as reliable as the regular PCR nasal swab tests, but they are far faster, cheaper and easier to perform.
“We have an agreement, we have seed capital and now we need the full amount to buy these tests,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a virtual press conference.
Last week the WHO published the first emergency list for a high-quality, antigen-based rapid test (RDT). More are expected to follow.
“A significant portion of these rapid tests – 120 million – will be made available to low and middle income countries,” said Tedros.
“These tests provide reliable results in about 15 to 30 minutes instead of hours or days at a lower cost with less sophisticated equipment.
“This will allow testing to expand, especially in hard-to-reach areas where there are no laboratory facilities or adequately trained health workers to perform PCR tests.”
No laboratory required
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is jointly convening the WHO-led joint search for Covid-19 diagnostics, is investing US $ 50 million from its Covid-19 reaction pot.
Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund, said the RDTs are not a silver bullet but are an extremely valuable addition to PCR testing.
“While they’re a little less accurate, they’re much faster, cheaper, and don’t require a laboratory,” Sands said.
“This will allow low and middle income countries to fill the dramatic testing gap.”
Sands said that high-income countries currently run 292 tests per day per 100,000 people; Higher middle income countries 77; Lower-middle-income countries, 61; and low-income countries, 14.
He said if the poorest countries tested at the same rate as the richest, 120 million tests wouldn’t take two weeks.
The tests can be used when PCR tests are not available. rapid testing of contacts who have been confirmed by a PCR test to be a case; and in places with widespread community broadcast.
Sands said the first orders were received this week.
The tests are carried out by two companies: the US multinational Abbott Laboratories and South Korea-based SD BioSensor.
The 120 million tests reflect 20 percent of the company’s production capacity. The remaining 80 percent remain available for procurement.
By 1600 GMT Monday, the respiratory disease had claimed 1,002,432 victims out of 33,178,275 registered infections, according to an AFP tally, which comes from official sources.
“The current numbers are likely an underestimation of the actual toll,” said Michael Ryan, WHO emergency director.
He said Friday that unless countries and individuals take collective action to fight the spread of the virus, a further million deaths are “very likely” before a vaccine hits the market.