Geneva, 29 January 2021 – Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) welcomes the recent announcement by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and Unitaid to scale up production of critical COVID-19 rapid tests, and reduce the price by half for lower- and middle-income countries. On behalf of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which works to increase COVID-19 tests availability, the two organisations signed a contract with an Indian medical supplies company, Premier Medical Corporation, to produce 120 million COVID-19 antigen-detecting rapid diagnostic tests per year at a price of US$2.50 per test.
Such rapid antigen tests are key for point-of-care COVID-19 testing, due to faster test results (15 minutes) without the need for laboratory infrastructure or expensive equipment. Presently, World Health Organization (WHO)-prequalified rapid antigen tests are only available from two companies, Abbott and SD Biosensor, at a price of $5.00 per test.
Stijn Deborggraeve, Diagnostics Advisor Infectious Diseases, MSF Access Campaign:
“We are encouraged by the announcement made by FIND and Unitaid for securing this commitment with Premier Medical Corporation, a company located in a middle-income country, to scale up production and distribution of COVID-19 antigen rapid tests at half the price of existing tests. Premier Medical Corporation applied for WHO emergency use listing of their COVID-19 antigen rapid test and, if it meets the quality and performance standards for listing, the initiative will challenge the market of WHO-prequalified COVID-19 antigen rapid tests, increasing competition and ensuring affordable prices for lower- and middle-income countries. With the planned production of 120 million COVID-19 tests per year, we hope that Premier Medical Corporation will also remain committed to maintaining supply levels of its other critical tests, such as those for malaria, HIV and hepatitis.
COVID-19 antigen tests can deliver rapid and actionable results, ensuring timely identification of people infected with the virus at the community level. With the availability of more affordable quality rapid tests, countries must now scale up COVID-19 testing in the communities using rapid tests as well as centralised molecular testing wherever possible. Countries and donors must also take urgent measures to integrate COVID-19 testing with screening for other health crises and comorbidities including tuberculosis, HIV and non-communicable diseases, and ensure adequate funding.
Even with the initiation of COVID-19 vaccination programmes, large-scale testing will remain crucial for timely detection and controlling outbreaks. Access to affordable quality rapid tests is absolutely essential for the much-needed scale up of COVID-19 testing in lower- and middle-income countries, including for settings that lack the testing capacity and test supplies that are available in wealthier nations.”