120 million COVID-19 antigen tests are to be made available to low and middle-income countries
120 million COVID-19 antigen tests are to be made available to low and middle-income countries (LMICs) according to a new announcement by the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. The new tests will be affordable, high quality diagnostic tools, the distribution of which has now been agreed through a series of agreements reached by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), the Global Fund, UNITAID and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Laboratory-based tests are for many LMICs impractical due to a lack of extensive laboratory facilities or trained health workers required to implement polymerase-chain reaction (PCR) tests for coronavirus and/or other conditions and diseases. Hand-held PCR tests will be easily distributable for mass screening purposes in a host of countries. Two separate agreements guaranteeing volume of coronavirus tests have been executed also between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Abbott and SD Biosensor. This will lead to 120 Ag RDT tests available to LMICs over a period of six months. These tests will provide results within 15-30 minutes and enable expansion of testing programmes.
Implementation research is being carried out by FIND and WHO to support the mass roll-out of tests across these countries. This research will optimise the use of Ag RDTs in multiple LMICs, in line with WHO guidance. This includes provision of catalytic volumes of tests to understand how Ag RDTs can best fit into health systems. UNITAID and the Africa CDC will initiate the roll out of these tests in up to 20 African countries in October 2020.
The aim of the ACT-Accelerator Diagnostics Pillar is to accelerate innovation and overcome the technical, financial and political obstacles that block equitable access to effective and timely COVID-19 testing. The collaboration has led to the deployment of the first WHO EUL-approved Ag RDT within eight months of coronavirus first being identified. This is in comparison with the near-on five years it took to develop the first RDT for HIV.
Overall, the ACT-Accelerator Diagnostic Pillar aims to facilitate the supply of 500 million tests to LMICs within 12 months. Agreements such as these are key steps forward in the ACT’s mission to ensure all countries, regardless of income, have fair access to new tests and mechanisms to fight COVID-19.