The World Health Organization (WHO) and its partners will send 120 million rapid COVID-19 tests to low- and middle-income countries, including some in Latin America.
These are antigen tests that detect virus proteins and provide reliable results in about 15 to 30 minutes, at a lower price and with less sophisticated equipment.
The WHO assures that they will allow to expand the tests, especially in areas of difficult access where there are no laboratories or medical personnel sufficiently trained to carry out molecular tests.
“The faster COVID-19 can be diagnosed, the faster steps can be taken to treat and isolate those with the virus and trace their contacts,” explained the Organization’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanon Gebreyesus.
The director explained that this is a vital addition to the ability to test and is especially important in high transmission areas.
“The problem with molecular testing is that in some countries results take days and that is a challenge to control outbreaks,” added Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, lead epidemiologist at WHO.
Among the 133 countries that will receive the tests are “Many Latin Americans”, the WHO experts assured without specifying the recipients.
“Rapid antigen tests provide reliable results, they work almost like a pregnancy test,” explained Catharina Boeme, executive director of FIND, a non-profit foundation partner of WHO for the delivery of antigen tests.
OCHA / Gema Cortes
Cheaper tests but still require funding
“Volume warranty agreements have been developed between two manufacturers and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which will make 120 million of these new, highly portable and easy-to-use rapid diagnostic tests available over a six-month period,” Boeme reported.
Currently, the tests have a maximum price of five dollars per unit, substantially less than PCR tests (which use the polymerase chain reaction technique).
“We expect the price to go down even more. We have an agreement, we have seed funding, and now we need the full amount of funds to purchase these tests.
Over the weekend, Boris Johnson, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced new funding for both the WHO and COVAX, the WHO global vaccine initiative.
“United, the world has to raise an additional $ 35 billion. But this is a good opportunity for countries in the context of the trillions of dollars they are currently spending on stimulus to keep economies afloat. If we act together, we will win together ”, he added.
Eight months working on the tests
Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO has emphasized the vital importance of testing as part of a comprehensive strategy to control the transmission of COVID-19.
Two weeks after the Organization learned of the first cases of the new coronavirus, China shared the genetic sequences.
“Working with our partner laboratory in Germany, the Charité University, we published the first instructions on how to build a validated PCR test for COVID-19. By the third week of January, WHO had contracted to manufacture PCR reagents for COVID-19; and at the end of January, the WHO began sending PCR tests to more than 150 laboratories around the world, allowing countries to identify and track the virus, ”Tedros recalled.
Since then, WHO started working with partners to develop simpler and faster diagnostic tests that could be used anywhere in the world.
“An important milestone was reached last week, in which the WHO published the first offering of quality antigen-based rapid tests and we look forward to further rapid tests to follow,” he said.