The World Health Organization, or WHO, announced on Monday that 120 million rapid tests for COVID-19 will be made available to low and middle income countries thanks to an agreement between the WHO and its partners.
The tests provide reliable results in approximately 15 to 30 minutes, rather than hours or days, at a lower price, with less sophisticated equipment, the WHO said.
“This will enable the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas that do not have lab facilities, or enough trained health workers to carry out PCR (polymerise chain reaction) tests,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news conference from Geneva. “This is a vital addition to their testing capacity and is especially important in areas of high transmission.”
According to the WHO, volume guarantee agreements have been developed between two manufacturers and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which will make 120 million of the new highly portable and easy-to-use rapid diagnostic tests available over a period of six months.
The tests are currently priced at a maximum of $5 per unit, substantially cheaper than PCR tests.
“We expect the price to come down,” said Tedros, who last week was included in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2020.
The quicker COVID-19 can be diagnosed, he said, the quicker action can be taken to treat and isolate those with the virus and trace their contacts.
Tedros admitted that currently, the project only has seed funding. “We need the full amount of funds to buy these tests,” he said, adding that the world has to raise an additional $35 billion for the ACT-Accelerator, a global initiative to speed up the development, production and equitably distribution of tests, drugs and vaccines for COVID-19.
By 3:52pm Geneva time on Monday, the WHO reported that globally there had been 33.04 million cases and 996,342 deaths from COVID-19.