A global partnership will be making 120 million rapid coronavirus tests available to 133 economically less-advantaged nations at heavily discounted prices, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday. The tests will be supplied by U.S.-based Abbott (ABT -0.27%) and South Korea's SD Biosensor, over a period of six months, and will cost the purchasing nations $5 or less apiece.

The plan is the result of a series of agreements between the two pharmaceutical companies and several nonprofit organizations, NGOs, and public health agencies, including the WHO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Global Fund.

The rapid diagnostic antigen tests produced by Abbott and SD Biosensor are both easily portable -- all the better to transport to remote areas -- and relatively straightforward to administer. Another advantage is that they do not require laboratory processing, and produce reliable results in half an hour or less. 


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This initiative will be bolstered by an initial $50 million provided by the Global Fund, an international nonprofit dedicated to tackling epidemics. That will provide for an initial 10 million tests, the first orders for which should be placed this week.

"Testing is a critical cornerstone of the COVID-19 response, enabling countries to trace and contain the virus now, and to prepare for the roll-out of vaccines once available," the WHO said in the press release announcing the initiative. "Effective testing strategies rely on a portfolio of test types that can be used in different settings and situations.

Although numerous COVID-19 vaccine candidates are currently in development, none has yet completed its clinical testing, nor have any been approved for use by a major regulator.