The World Is Facing A Testing Crisis On Covid-19

Alan Donnelly, Convenor of the G20 Health and Development Partnership  

An open letter sent to G20 leaders, G20 finance ministers, G20 health ministers and G20 Sherpas, and published in Politico Pro. 

16 June 2020

Visit the G20 HDP website

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our world on a scale we have not seen for a century. It has devastated families and brought our lives to a standstill, from the smallest villages to the greatest metropolises on every continent across the globe.

No community has been left unaffected. It is in this context that we welcome how leaders came together at the Coronavirus Global Response Pledging Conference on 4 May, raising €9.8 billion to combat the virus.

We welcome the sums pledged to fund development of vaccines and treatment for the virus. However, there is still much more to achieve, particularly to fully fund an effective response on diagnostics and testing. Scale-up of testing remains severely underfunded. There is an urgent need to support the diagnostics industry with sustainable investments to help develop and deploy tests to those that need it most.

The ACT-Accelerator has to date allocated just 2.5% of the donated funds to diagnostics, with 45.5% allocated to strengthening health systems and 23.5% to developing a vaccine. It is puzzling why diagnostics have received such low levels of funding given its critical importance to an effective response to COVID-19.

This low level of funding for the diagnostics industry should be corrected on June 27th in the Second Pledging Conference organised by the European Union in partnership with Global Citizen, to address the funding imbalance. Without testing, countries cannot assess how to treat appropriately and ascertain how the epidemic is evolving.

Until an effective treatment is found and a vaccine is developed and scaled-up for global use, diagnostics are the most important medical technology available to shape countries’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Development of a vaccine will take several months, and when available, testing will be crucial to understand how immunity is developing and the epidemic is progressing.

Antibody testing to estimate the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 should be conducted alongside antigen testing to understand the incidence, as part of a wider, integrated, strategic approach to testing.

New Zealand, Germany, Finland, Taiwan and many other countries have led by example. South Korea has recorded less than 112,000 cases of coronavirus with just 264 deaths after introducing a rigorous testing programme and successfully avoiding a full lockdown and its economic effects. Testing the right individuals is key to a successful diagnostics strategy.

The deployment of 500 million tests in low-income countries could save 9 million lives, help fight the COVID-19 pandemic and support preparedness for the next outbreak. Yet, most countries have not been able to establish a strategic diagnostic response, with the consequence that those in greatest need are the ones most likely to die or suffer most economically from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.

Worldwide, there are more than 70 million forcibly displaced people who are at a heightened risk of coronavirus. 26 million of these displaced people are refugees, with 80% in low- and middle-income countries with health systems that lack the resilience of economically advanced countries. Unless there is urgent action to scale-up testing among refugees, thousands of lives will be lost needlessly.

Africa faces major risks from the Covid-19 pandemic. Inadequate access to affordable and quality testing is causing much concern amongst public health experts as countries gradually lift restrictions. This critical phase will require increased testing capacity, effectively functioning supply chain systems, and international cooperation, all of which are lacking.

Discussions on the international level and the findings from the ACT-Accelerator Pillar on testing led by FIND and the Global Fund highlight that there is a higher demand for COVID-19 tests but not enough supply. This imbalance has to be recognized and act upon by world leaders.

Without adequate funding to develop and scale-up capacity for reliable diagnostic testing for COVID- 19, and fully operational supply chain systems most countries will not be able to implement a successful test, trace and treat policy and safely ease restrictions. They will experience prolonged economic hardship, which disproportionately impacts those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Yet, despite the pledges at the 4th May European Coronavirus Pledging Conference, many organisations who manufacture and produce testing equipment are not receiving the necessary support from national governments to develop and scale up diagnostic capacity. This must change if the world is to return to any semblance of normality. The diagnostic testing industry needs sustainable investments not only to help in the fight against the current pandemic but be equipped for any future pandemics to come.

The call to action is clear. Funding must be provided for diagnostics, both in terms of research and development, and for deployment at scale. We urge all nations, major corporations and donors to invest sustainably, and more strategically in developing rapid diagnostic testing to fight COVID-19 for good of our world today.

SIGNED:

Alan Donnelly, Convenor of the G20 Health and Development Partnership.

The Rt Hon. the Lord Jack Cunningham of Felling DL, Member of the House of Lords, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership

Ms Angela Eagle MP, Member of the House of Commons, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership

Dr Hayat Sindi, Senior Advisor to the President for Science, Technology and Innovation, Islamic Development Bank, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership

Prof. Rifat Atun, Professor of Global Health Systems, Harvard University, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership

Elmar Brok, Former Member of the European Parliament, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership

Dr Harald Nusser, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership

Dykki Settle, Chief Digital Officer, PATH, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership

Philippe Fauchet, Founder, Mirasense Partners, Consulting Services for Life Sciences, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership

Jamie Bay Nishi, Director, Global Health Technologies Coalition, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership.

Willo Brock, Senior Vice President, External Affairs, TB Alliance, Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership.

Guanyu Zhou, FIA Formula 2 Championship Driver, Young Global Ambassador, G20 Health and Development Partnership.