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WHO Leads Partnership to Roll Out 120M Rapid COVID-19 Tests for Low- and Middle-Income Countries

NEW YORK – The World Health Organization announced Monday it has inked a set of agreements with multiple global organizations to provide 120 million rapid COVID-19 tests in low- and middle-income countries.

WHO's Access to COVID-19 Tools-Accelerator program led the agreement, which includes the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, the Global Fund, and Unitaid.

The full access package includes policy guidance from WHO on how to use rapid antigen tests and fit them into current health systems, manufacturer volume guarantees, funding to help governments deploy the tests, and a $50 million procurement fund. The volume guarantee agreements were negotiated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with Abbott and SD Biosensor to make 120 million rapid antigen tests available over six months with a maximum cost of $5 per test. WHO said in a statement it is currently assessing "several" other rapid antigen tests.

The $50 million from the Global Fund's COVID-19 Response Mechanism will enable countries to buy at least 10 million tests, and first orders for the tests are expected to be placed this week. Unitaid and Africa CDC will roll the tests out in 20 countries in Africa starting next month, pending final approval from their boards.

"These agreements will help ensure that millions of people in low- and middle-income countries have access to high-quality rapid testing in villages and towns as well as cities," Iain Barton, CEO of the Clinton Health Access Initiative, said in a statement. "This has the potential to revolutionize government's ability to respond to the pandemic, enabling quick diagnosis and response to contain localized virus outbreaks before they spread." 

In June, WHO announced it aimed to raise $6 billion for the diagnostics portion of its Access to COVID-19 Tools-Accelerator program over the next year. Earlier this month, WHO released guidance emphasizing the value of rapid antigen tests in areas with widespread community transmission where amplification-based testing is unavailable or results are significantly delayed.