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WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 28 September 2020

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28 September 2020

  • Last week WHO issued the first Emergency Use Listing for a quality antigen based rapid diagnostic test and we expect other rapid tests to follow.

  • Thanks to an agreement between WHO, partners here today and others, a substantial proportion of these rapid tests – 120 million – will be made available to low- and middle-income countries.

  • These tests provide reliable results in approximately 15 to 30 minutes, rather than hours or days at a lower price with less sophisticated equipment.

  • This will enable the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas.

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening,

Since the beginning of the pandemic, WHO has emphasised the vital importance of testing as part of a comprehensive strategy to control COVID-19 transmission.

Within two weeks of WHO learning of the first cases of the novel coronavirus, China shared the genetic sequences with WHO and the wider world.

Working with our partner lab in Germany, Charité University, we then published the first instructions on how to build a validated PCR test for COVID-19.

By the third week of January, WHO had contracted the manufacture of PCR reagents for COVID-19.

And by late January, WHO began shipping PCR tests to over 150 labs around the world, enabling countries to identify and trace the virus.

At the same time, we began working with partners to develop simpler, faster tests for use anywhere around the world to diagnose COVID-19.

Last week we reached an important milestone, in which WHO issued the first Emergency Use Listing for a quality antigen based rapid diagnostic test and we expect other rapid tests to follow.

Today, I have good news.

I’m pleased to announce that thanks to an agreement between WHO and partners here today and others, a substantial proportion of these rapid tests – 120 million – will be made available to low- and middle-income countries.

These tests provide reliable results in approximately 15 to 30 minutes, rather than hours or days at a lower price with less sophisticated equipment.

This will enable the expansion of testing, particularly in hard-to-reach areas that do not have lab facilities or enough trained health workers to carry out PCR tests.

This is a vital addition to their testing capacity and is especially important in areas of high transmission.

Volume guarantee agreements have been developed between two manufacturers and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which will make 120 million of these new highly portable and easy-to-use rapid diagnostic tests available over a period of six months.

Currently they’re priced at a maximum of 5 US dollars per unit, these are already substantially cheaper than PCR tests and we expect the price to come down.

The quicker COVID-19 can be diagnosed, the quicker action can be taken to treat and isolate those with the virus and trace their contacts.

We have an agreement, we have seed funding and now we need the full amount of funds to buy these tests.

Over the weekend my friend, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, announced new funding for both WHO and COVAX, which is the vaccines arm of the ACT-Accelerator.

Together, the world has to raise an additional 35 billion US dollars for the ACT-Accelerator.

But this represents a great deal for countries in the context of the trillions of dollars they’re currently spending on stimulus to keep economies afloat.

If we act together, we will win together!