The Global Drug Facility includes cartridges for rapid testing of COVID-19 in their catalogue

The Union welcomed the announcement that the Global Drug Facility (GDF) will include cartridges for rapid testing of COVID-19 in their catalogue of medicines available to the public sector. The cartridges can be used to detect COVID-19 in approximately 45 minutes in Cepheid’s more than 23,000 automated GeneXpert® Systems worldwide. The GeneXpert® test is a molecular test for tuberculosis (TB) and diagnoses TB by detecting the presence of TB bacteria, as well as testing for resistance to the drug Rifampicin.

“This is a shining example of how inroads into one disease, COVID-19, can be made by capitalising on the infrastructure being used to fight another, TB,” said Dr Paula I Fujiwara, Scientific Director of The Union. “By making these cartridges available through the GDF, national health programmes in low- and middle-income countries around the world that already procure supplies through the GDF will have quicker and more equitable access to a diagnostic tool for COVID-19, using equipment that is already on-hand.

“The Union welcomes the development but with a crucial caveat. It is our hope that Cepheid will continue to ensure uninterrupted production of Xpert MTB/Rif cartridges, which are essential in rapidly diagnosing TB and its drug-resistant strains. If production of Xpert MTB/Rif cartridges is halted to make way for the production of COVID-19 cartridges, the knock-on effects to the accurate diagnosis of TB – the leading infectious disease killer worldwide – would be catastrophic.

“We must also address affordability in addition to ease and speed. Currently these tests cost US$20 each, but there is reasoned analysis from MSF’s Access Campaign showing how the price can be reduced to US$5 each, while still turning a profit for Cepheid. And that´s a win-win situation for both the company and the people in need.

“Low- and middle-income countries are going to be hardest hit by the economic consequences of this pandemic. The Cepheid COVID-19 cartridge is not a point of care test and we look forward to the development of a true point of care test for it. However, we must make diagnostic tools affordable from their release, otherwise, the human toll will be enormous.

GDF has increased access to high-quality and affordable TB treatments and diagnostics to populations in need since its creation in 2001. It is the largest global provider of quality-assured TB medicines, diagnostics and laboratory supplies to the public sector.


MSF Access Campaign Technical Brief, Time for $5: GeneXpert Diagnostic Tests