Today, it is feared that the rush to supply the wealthiest countries who demand more tests will destabilize the fight against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, diseases that kill millions of people, mainly in low- and middle-income countries.
“Some companies plan to reduce or stop the production of malaria, HIV and tuberculosis tests,” said Dr. Catharina Boehme, executive director of the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (Find) and advisor to the ‘World Health Organization. “They are moving their production to Covid-19 tests.”
Boehme said companies could get about 18 cents for a rapid malaria test and $ 10 for a Covid-19 test.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has expressed concern about “any action that may reduce the availability of tests or treatment for HIV, tuberculosis or malaria.”
Executive Director Peter Sands said, “Given the risk that Covid-19 will undermine our continued progress in fighting existing epidemics, now is not the time to do anything that weakens our ability to diagnose and treat people infected with HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria in a timely and cost-effective manner. It would cost lives. “
Diagnosis has been the poor relation of drugs and vaccines for years, as governments now realize at their cost. The handful of diagnostic countries, including South Korea and Singapore, have managed to contain their epidemics. They had a huge advantage.
“South Korea and Singapore both have an extremely strong diagnostic industry. Samsung, for example, has a diagnostic branch. Many tech companies that we know better with cellphones, etc., have diagnostic branches, ”said Boehme. South Korea has factories that test for American and European companies.
In Singapore, Sars was a red flag. The government subsequently recognized an opportunity and invested in the diagnostic industry. Diagnoses are much more complicated than drugs and vaccines. India, which produces massively cheap generic drugs for the world, does not have a large production of diagnostics.
Germany, which has done more testing than any other country, got off to a good start thanks to virologist Christian Drosten, who produced the first test for WHO-supported Covid-19. In the UK, Public Health England took longer. Usually the Centers for Disease Control in the United States first came out of the blocks with new tests, but it didn’t work. It failed to detect enough cases and also produced false positives.
Germany had a large and excellent network of laboratories and had the advantage of being decentralized, so that it could respond to outbreaks through extensive testing carried out on a regional and local basis.
By the time the UK decided to speed up testing, it had problems similar to those in developing countries. There were shortages of test kits and chemicals.
Small countries have less trouble getting what they need. “The United Kingdom is one of the largest countries. If they hadn’t ordered large enough quantities early enough, they would have lost, “said Boehme.
The BGI Group, a Chinese company that established tests in Wuhan at the start of the pandemic and then set up laboratories and tests in 11 other cities, is one of the few large companies to have tested Covid-19 approved in the United States and Europe. which helped China to contain the epidemic. He also participated in the production of Ebola tests for Africa.
It supplies coronavirus tests to Sweden and one of its companies, MGI, recently agreed to provide 2 million tests to France. MGI also offered to help the UK. “We want to help. Our manufacturing capacity is now 2 million tests per day and we are accelerating to meet demand as we see it, “said Perla El Hage, MGI District Sales Manager for Northern Europe and ‘Where is.
Find is working with WHO, Unicef, the World Food Program and the Gates and Clinton foundations to obtain the Covid-19 tests for low-income countries. It has a storage facility in Dubai. BGI is one of the companies that has helped, but the scale of the needs is a challenge.
“We need about 1 billion tests in the next 12 months for low and middle income countries,” said Boehme. “Rapid diagnostic tests would be ideal in terms of usability and price, but at the moment there is still a WHO recommendation against them because we lack evidence.