Poor countries throughout the world will have access to rapid diagnostic tests for the coronavirus for just a few dollars each, the World Health Organisation has announced.
Over six months, 120 million COVID tests will be made available to low- and middle-income countries at no more than $US5 ($A7.10) per unit.
The tests will be able to provide reliable results in as little as 15 minutes and don’t require a laboratory, said Catharina Boehme, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND).
“The tests are as simple to use as pregnancy tests,” she said.
The antigen tests are being made available under an agreement between test manufacturers Abbott and SD Biosensor and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he expects they will be priced even cheaper, enabling “the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas that do not have laboratory facilities or enough trained health workers”.
“This is a vital addition to the testing capacity and especially important in areas of high transmission,” Dr Tedros said.
The first orders are expected to be placed this week, with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria providing an initial US$50 million to enable countries to buy the new tests.
Ms Boehme said the deal was a “major milestone” as it was urgent to increase testing in poorer countries.
“It is our first line of defence, critical for countries to track, trace and isolate to stop the spread of the virus and to ensure that we are not flying blind,” she said.
“We now have two high-quality tests which are the first in a series that are being developed and assessed by WHO for emergency use listing,” she said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, said that more tests were undergoing evaluation and would come online.
They would be particularly useful in remote settings and to investigate clusters quickly and bring them under control and in areas with widespread community transmission.
“This will be really, really helpful for communities and countries to be able to know where is the virus and who is infected with the virus,” she said.