A test that can accurately diagnose coronavirus in minutes will dramatically expand testing in low and middle-income countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
The $5 (£3.80) test could transform tracking of Covid-19 in less wealthy countries, which have shortages of healthcare workers and laboratories.
A deal with manufacturers will provide 120 million tests over six months.
The WHO’s head called it a major milestone.
Lengthy gaps between taking a test and receiving a result have hampered many countries’ attempts to control the spread of coronavirus.
In some countries with high infection rates, including India and Mexico, experts have said that low testing rates are disguising the true spread of their outbreaks.
The “new, highly portable and easy-to-use test” will provide results in 15-30 minutes instead of hours or days, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Monday.
Drugs manufacturers Abbott and SD Biosensor have agreed with the charitable Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce 120 million of the tests, Dr Tedros explained.
The deal covers 133 countries, including many in Latin America which is currently the region hardest-hit by the pandemic in terms of fatality and infection rates.
- Is low testing in South Asia hiding the scale of the outbreak?
- How much testing do European countries do?
- Where are the global coronavirus hotspots?
“This is a vital addition to their testing capacity and especially important in areas of high transmission,” Dr Tedros added.
“This will enable the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas that do not have laboratory facilities or enough trained health workers to carry out tests,” he said.
What are Monday’s other main developments?
- New restrictions have been announced in the Netherlands, where the health minister says authorities are struggling to keep the virus under control. The new rules say no more than three adult guests will be allowed inside homes; bars and restaurants must close by 22:00 and a shopping hour will be made exclusively for vulnerable individuals
- In other European countries new rules came into force. One million residents in Madrid will not be able to leave their area except to go to school or work, and public parks will close. In 12 areas of France including Paris, bars must close between 20:00-06:00 and in Brussels, cafes and bars must close by 23:00