In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Access to Covid tools initiative (ACT accelerator) which brought together ‘governments, scientists, businesses, civil society, and philanthropists and global health organizations’ in a Global collaboration to accelerate ‘development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.’ In their latest move, the initiative has now orchestrated a global partnership that will make 120 million rapid, quality and affordable COVID-19 tests more easily available to low- and middle-income countries. The move, will hopefully allow more countries to access the tools they need to better fight against the coronavirus, and not leave those with lower incomes to struggle, making the global fight more equitable overall.
The WHO’s press release detailed that the foundations, companies and organizations involved in the agreement include: Africa Centers 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).
Under the ACT accelerator, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation executed agreements between test manufacturers Abbott and SD Biosensor to make available 120million innovative antigen rapid diagnostic tests that will be priced at a maximum of $5 per unit for six months. The tests, that look similar to a pregnancy test, will provide results in 15 to 30 minutes enabling testing across the world in places that do not have access to laboratories or highly trained health workers. The tests are highly portable, reliable and easy to administer, they should be able to increase the pace and possibility of test and trace procedures everywhere – in both rural and metropolitan settings, centralized and decentralized healthcare settings and of course, under-resourced healthcare systems.
Organizations such as Unitaid and Africa CDC will join forces to rollout these tests in up to 20 countries in Africa from October 2020. An initial $50 million from the COVID-19 Response Mechanism will allow countries to purchase at least 10 million of the new tests at the aforementioned guaranteed price. However, according to The Guardian ‘in return for a volume guarantee from the Gates Foundation, the companies are making 20% of their production available to low- and middle-income countries and 80% to the rest. Germany has already ordered 20m tests and France and Switzerland are following suit.’ Wealthy countries, such as the UK, who have signed up to the ACT Accelerator will also be able to order the tests, however it is not yet clear whether they will do so.
Quoted in The Guardian, Catharina Boehme, CEO of the non-profit FIND (Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics), commented: ‘“We see the pressure of supply building rapidly. That’s why we need this volume guarantee. We needed to secure volumes for low- and middle-income countries, before all the other countries place their orders and the poor populations again lose out. For us the message is about unprecedented collaboration. We are really able to show what can be achieved when the world and leading global health partners come together with a shared priority.”
Currently North America tests approximately 395 people per 100,000 daily and Europe testa around 243 per 100,000 people daily. In comparison, Africa tests less than 16 people per day, many of whom are in Morocco, Kenya and Senegal only. These rapid antigen tests will ensure that these life-saving procedures are increased in the areas that it is not so easily accessible. In terms of accuracy the companies argue that the tests are about 97% accurate in optimal conditions, reducing to between 80 and 90% in real-world settings. Still reliable to pick up most infections.
In the World Health Organization’s press release the following statements were made in relation to the rollout of these tests and the ACT-Accelerator initiative:
‘Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, said: “High-quality rapid tests show us where the virus is hiding, which is key to quickly tracing and isolating contacts and breaking the chains of transmission. The tests are a critical tool for governments as they look to reopen economies and ultimately save both lives and livelihoods.”’
‘Mark Suzman, Chief Executive Officer of the Gates Foundation, said: “Testing is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19. We are delighted to join a partnership that will help ensure that the latest, high-quality diagnostics do not just go to the highest bidder but will be available at an affordable price to the world’s lower income countries. In addition, all of the actions announced today point to the growing success of the ACT-Accelerator in catalyzing global cooperation for a fair and effective response to this global crisis.”’