The World Health Organization has announced an agreement to make rapid Covid-19 tests available to lower and middle-income countries across the world.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general said, “a substantial proportion of these rapid tests - 120 million - will be made available to low and middle-income countries. These tests provide reliable results in approximately 15 to 30 minutes, rather than hours or days, at a lower price, with less sophisticated equipment.”
Tedros said during a Monday news conference that these “vital” tests will help expand testing in remote areas, “that do not have lab facilities or enough trained health workers to carry out PCR tests.”
He added: “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.”
The first orders are expected already to be placed this week and it will be rolled out in up to 20 countries in Africa starting in October.
Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund said the tests are hugely valuable as a complement to PCR tests but warned that they are not “a silver bullet.”
“Although they’re a bit less accurate - they’re much faster, cheaper, and don’t require a lab,” he explained. “Being able to deploy quality antigen RDTs, rapid diagnostic tests, will be a significant step forward in enabling countries to contain and combat Covid-19,” Sands added.
The PCR test is the most widespread and most accurate diagnostic test for determining whether someone is currently infected with coronavirus. However, the tests requires specialized supplies, expensive instruments, and the expertise of trained lab technicians. which has led to shortages and a testing gap globally.
Sands said these tests will help low and middle-income countries to “close the dramatic gap in testing between rich and poor countries.”
“Right now, high-income countries are conducting 292 tests per day per 100,000 people. For upper-middle-income countries, that number is 77. For lower-middle-income countries, 61, and from low-income countries, 14,” Sands said, though he did not expand on where that data originates.
Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, welcomed the development as it would allow “healthcare workers to quickly isolate cases and treat them while tracing their contacts to cut the transmission chain.”