Coronavirus testing that delivers on-site results within minutes is being rolled out in low-income countries, an important milestone in the fight against the disease.
The test – which only takes 15 to 30 minutes to make a diagnosis – works like a pregnancy test, showing two blue lines if a person is positive.
The rapid test looks for antigens or proteins that are on the surface of the virus. They are generally considered to be less accurate – although much faster – than the sophisticated genetic test known as the PCR test, which is used by richer countries.
American drug giant Abbott and South Korean producer SD Biosensor, which makes the device, have agreed to offer the tests to 133 low-income countries for as low as $5.
The World Health Organization and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation say the £467 million (US $600 million) project could start as early as next month.
There are concerns that outbreaks in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, which are currently hardest hit by the pandemic, will not be reported due to a lack of health and laboratory personnel needed for PCR testing in these countries.
The PCR test requires maintenance with laboratory equipment and special chemicals. This reversal usually takes days to give results to the patient.
Rapid and easy testing will not only help to get a clearer picture of outbreaks in poor countries, but also enable the mass screening of health workers who have died in disproportionate numbers in low-income countries.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the program as good news in the fight against Covid-19.
Catharine Boehme, Chief Executive of a nonprofit group called the Innovative New Diagnostics Foundation, said distribution would take place in 20 countries in Africa and would rely on support from groups including the Clinton Health Access Initiative.