Unitaid and COVID-19

Updates and resources on the pandemic

Unitaid’s Response

Unitaid has moved quickly to leverage its expertise in the global response to COVID-19.

Ensuring equitable access to health products is at the heart of what Unitaid does, acting with firm commitment to the notion that ‘no one safe until everyone is’.

As co-leads of the Therapeutics pillar of the Access to COVID Tools Accelerator, Unitaid is at the forefront of global efforts to ensure fair access to treatments for COVID-19.

We are also members of the Diagnostics Partnership, working with partners to ensure low and middle-income countries have access to the COVID-19 tests they need.

Since March 2020, our efforts have delivered concrete results in all areas, most notably:

  • The advance purchase of nearly three million doses of dexamethasone, to meet half of the estimated need in low and middle income countries. A dozen countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia have placed orders so far, with more to follow.
  • Making 120 million rapid diagnostic tests available for use in low and middle-income countries, together with Diagnostics Partnership stakeholders.
  • Supporting partners and countries with donations of pulse oximeters and funding for PPE in the field to ensure our work in other key areas continues.

Access to COVID Tool (ACT) Accelerator

The urgent need for effective tools to bring an end to the pandemic

The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator was launched in April 2020 by the World Health Organisation, bringing together global health actors and private sector partners to make diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for COVID-19 accessible to everyone who needs them worldwide.

Unitaid co-convenes the Therapeutics Partnership, together with Wellcome, and co-leads the market-preparedness work stream in the Diagnostics Partnership.

ACT-A Therapeutics Partnership

Overcoming challenges to make COVID-19 treatments available

From stopping mild symptoms from worsening to preventing hospitalised patients from dying, we cannot afford to live without effective treatments for COVID-19.

The Therapeutics Pillar of the ACT-Accelerator is co-convened by Unitaid and Wellcome, and aims to find the most promising treatments and ensure that low- and middle-income countries can access the benefits too. 

Treatments are urgently needed even as vaccines are becoming available. The global roll-out of these vaccines will take time and we need to treat those who fall ill and who are unable to get vaccinated.  

The Therapeutics Pillar is working to ensure that treatments coming through the pipeline are available, affordable and suitable for use in low-resource settings.

Therapeutics Pillar 2021 Strategy

As set out in the updated ACT-A investment case for 2021, the Therapeutics Pillar needs $3.2 billion to cover four main areas of work:

  1. Support and monitor research and development into novel antivirals, repurposed medicines and monoclonal antibodies
  2. Facilitate country-preparedness and ensure market readiness
  3. Procure treatments, as and when they are proven effective
  4. Expand access to oxygen, via the COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce

Donations to the ACT-Accelerator can be tracked here.

Dexamethasone

Together with Unicef, the Therapeutics Pillar secured 2.9 million treatment courses of dexamethasone – the first proven life-saving therapy for hospitalised patients – for people in low-and middle-income countries in July 2020, just weeks after the UK RECOVERY trial results showed it to be effective in cutting mortality. 

More than a dozen low- and middle-income countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Central America have placed orders so far, with more expected throughout 2021.

COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce

Since the start of the pandemic, affordable and sustainable access to oxygen has been a growing challenge in low- and middle-income countries. 

For patients who are critically ill with COVID-19 and require oxygen support, access to oxygen alongside treatments like dexamethasone can be lifesaving. 

Together with WHO and Wellcome, Unitaid launched the COVID-19 Oxygen Emergency Taskforce in February 2021.

The taskforce brings together key organisations that have been working to improve access to oxygen since the start of the pandemic including WHO, Unicef, the Global Fund, World Bank, CHAI and PATH.

Building on these efforts, partners will focus on three key objectives as a part of an emergency response plan:

  1. Measuring acute and longer-term oxygen needs in LMICs
  2. Connecting countries to financing partners for their assessed oxygen requirements
  3. Supporting the procurement and supply of oxygen, along with related products and services.

COVID-19 oxygen emergency impacting more than half a million people in low- and middle-income countries every day, as demand surges, 25.02.21 

COVID-19 clinical trials 

Unitaid is funding adaptive clinical activities for the COVID-19 response to address evidence gaps.  Given the dynamic pipeline of candidates, the goal is to contribute conclusive evidence that can be used to develop guidance for effective and safe prevention and treatment.

The AGILE project is an early-stage clinical trial platform that is identifying potential new candidates and repurposed therapeutics for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19, thereby enabling larger trials to move more quickly and efficiently. The main evaluations are being done through the University of Liverpool and their networks. 

ANTICOV is an open-label, adaptive platform trial of the safety and efficacy of several potential treatments, including antiviral therapies, for mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. The trial is led by DNDi and involves countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Mozambique, Sudan, and Uganda.

Unitaid supports ANTICOV, an adaptive platform trial in Africa to treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, 24.11.20

COHIVE is an observational study assessing the impact of COVID-19 in people living with HIV, clarifying the risks for this cohort, and informing outcomes with repurposed treatments for COVID-19 transmission risks.

The COVER HCW study of 1700 healthcare workers in South Africa is led by Ezintsha. The aim is to evaluate COVID-19 prophylaxis for highly-exposed health care workers using immediately-available generic drugs, as well as describing the burden of new COVID-19 infection in African health workforces. 

Unitaid has funded a desk review of the drug Ivermectin at the University of Liverpool. Our latest statement on this can be found here.

Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are a promising treatment for COVID-19 currently being tested in clinical trials around the world.

The ACT-A Therapeutics Pillar, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (on behalf of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator), reserved manufacturing capacity for the development of Eli Lilly’s potential COVID-19 monoclonal antibody for low-and middle-income countries.

COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator partners are monitoring the science of new COVID variants closely, and determining how these strains may impact the initiative’s portfolio of current and potential future investments.

ACT-A Diagnostics Partnership

Accelerating access to testing everywhere


Without mass testing around the world, COVID-19 will continue to spread. Testing plays a vital role in identifying clusters of cases and preventing onward transmission, when combined with contact tracing and quarantine.

The ACT-A Diagnostics Partnership is co-convened by FIND and the Global Fund, with Unitaid leading the market-preparedness workstream.

The Partnership aims to accelerate development of high-performing, affordable, rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), prepare markets to accelerate their

implementation and support the cost of test procurement and deployment in low- and middle-income countries.

These Antigen RDTs are a game-changer in the fight against COVID-19, enabling quick results that do not rely on complex and expensive laboratory equipment.

They are designed to be used in a variety of settings, but will be particularly useful in remote health settings with limited or no testing resources.

ACT-A estimates that nearly 500 million COVID-19 diagnostic tests will be needed in LMICs by mid-2021, 75% in de-centralised settings, such as primary healthcare and hospital triage.

Facilitating access to Rapid Diagnostic Tests in LMICs 

As part of their work within the ACT-A Diagnostics Pillar, Unitaid and FIND launched an expression of interest in July to accelerate the availability and manufacturing scale-up of antigen rapid diagnostic tests (Ag RDTs) for the detection of COVID-19 in low-and-middle income countries.

In January 2021, the first agreements were concluded from this EOI, halving the cost of Ag RDTs for LMICs and expanding geographical manufacturing capacity.

The agreement with Premier Medical Corporation (PMC) in India is the first in a set of investments in research and development, including technology transfer and manufacturing scale-up.

With support from FIND and Unitaid, the company is expanding and automating manufacturing capacity so that Ag RDTs can be made available to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) for less than US$2.50 per test.

This builds on the Diagnostics Partnership announcement from September 2020, which saw partners come together to facilitate access to 120 million rapid tests for low-and middle-income countries.

Unitaid, CHAI and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) have combined resources to engage in country-preparedness to enable the roll out of these tests in up to 20 countries in Africa.

This will bolster efforts by the African Union’s Partnership to Accelerate COVID-19 Testing (PACT) initiative, launched in August 2020 to mobilise experts, community workers and other resources to minimise the impact of the pandemic on the African continent by testing, tracing, and treating COVID-19 cases in a timely manner.

Supporting our partners through the pandemic

Unitaid’s efforts to transform the fight against major diseases continue, even in the context of COVID-19.

Unitaid News, October 2020: Global health beyond COVID-19

Unitaid and partners have been collaborating to protect the gains made against diseases such as HIV/AIDS, TB and cervical cancer – and to advance 21st century solutions to meet these challenges.

Unitaid has supported partners with the provision of PPE and donations of pulse oximeters to aid with the COVID response in several low- and middle-income countries, as well as rapidly responding to help project teams hire staff to cover those who are self-isolating and adapt to providing remote healthcare.

“Unlocking the door to oxygen access – pulse oximetry as part of a holistic approach”

Read more about Unitaid’s work with partners during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Ensuring continuity of services and programmes

Donating pulse oximeters and PPE

Key documents and decisions

Our press releases:

Unitaid and COVID-19

On social media now:

MTV Shuga is back!: “MTV Shuga Alone Together” a new COVID-19 Campaign

The MTV Staying Alive Foundation, in partnership with UN Every Woman Every Child and Unitaid, has launched a 60-part mini-series of MTV Shuga to raise awareness in the global fight to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Catch these new bite-sized episodes weeknights on YouTube here

More about this campaign coming soon. Stay tuned!  #MTVShugaAloneTogether

For the latest news, follow the @UNITAID on Twitter

Media Contact:

Hervé Verhoosel | +44 7729 618634 | verhooselh@unitaid.who.int

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