COVID-19 Diagnostics: The Full Picture

The pandemic has revealed the entrenched inequities in the world, and the access to diagnostics for COVID-19 is also illustrative of this. As per latest announcements here in Geneva, 80% of the world’s population – living in low- and middle-income countries – will initially receive only 20% of two kinds of antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests, while the remaining 20% – those in high and upper middle-income countries – can essentially procure 80% of these tests.

Undoubtedly, it is welcome that 120 million tests for the pandemic will be made available to low and middle income countries over a period of six months. However, relative to overall manufacturing capacities, these are very limited and will do far from addressing perceived global health security concerns. Besides, as on date, majority of the funds (US $ 600 million) needed to procure even these 120 million tests are yet to be raised. (The Global Fund said that it has set aside US $50 million to buy at least 10 million of the new rapid tests for LMICs at the guaranteed price, with the first orders expected to be placed this week through the fund’s pooled procurement mechanism.)

Of the US $6 billion estimated to be needed to meet the demand for diagnostics, a woeful $0.3 billion has been pledged, according to documents seen by Geneva Health Files. The immediate need for diagnostics is pegged at $2 billion before 2020 runs out. (This is for 500 million tests – molecular tests and RDTs – in LMICs over the next 12 months, according to FIND). The financing gap stands at US$ 6 billion.

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