1 March 2021 – Reuters released a special report today on the shortage of COVID-19 tests in low- and middle-income countries, “Donors bet a U.S. firm could transform disease testing in Africa. Then COVID-19 hit.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many low- and middle-income countries had invested – either directly or via donors – in thousands of GeneXpert machines made by pharmaceutical corporation Cepheid to test for HIV, tuberculosis, Ebola and other infectious diseases. Last year, Cepheid received emergency authorisation for its COVID-19 test – which also uses Cepheid’s GeneXpert testing platform – to detect coronavirus at or near the point of care, delivering results in less than an hour.
The report details how in prioritising selling its COVID-19 test to high-income countries, Cepheid is undersupplying COVID-19 tests in low- and middle-income countries where GeneXpert machines sit idle.
Stijn Deborggraeve, Diagnostics Advisor, MSF Access Campaign
“It is outrageous that despite global calls for solidarity in the face of COVID-19, Cepheid continues pandemic profiteering by charging even low- and middle-income countries exorbitant prices for its COVID-19 test cartridges and prioritising supply to wealthy nations. This is a slap in the face for low- and middle-income countries, who have invested for a decade in Cepheid’s instruments for the diagnosis of tuberculosis and other diseases but now their GeneXpert machines lay empty, awaiting COVID-19 test cartridges that Cepheid prefers to sell to high-income countries.
Right now, every idle machine and every missing cartridge is a missed opportunity to diagnose people with COVID-19. So many lives could be saved if Cepheid made its test available and affordable in all countries.”