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 coronavirus.

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.

As set out in the latest ACT-A investment case, the Therapeutics Pillar needs $6.6 billion to rapidly fund treatment research, prepare the market to produce treatments at scale, and deliver lifesaving treatments in low- and middle-income countries.

$750 million is required immediately to ensure promising treatments like monoclonal antibodies can be rapidly rolled out in low-resource settings in 2021.

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. 

A dozen low- and middle-income countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia have placed orders so far, with more expected in 2021.

Monoclonal antibodies

Analysis by the ACT-Accelerator Therapeutics Pillar of more than 1,700 clinical trials has identified COVID-19 monoclonal antibodies as one of the most promising treatment options for non-hospitalised patients – taken either as a preventative or at the early stage of the disease.

Monoclonal antibodies are currently being tested in clinical trials around the world.

The Therapeutics Pillar, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (on behalf of the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator), has already reserved manufacturing capacity in 2021 for the development of Eli Lilly’s potential COVID-19 monoclonal antibody for low-and middle-income countries.

Due to the limited manufacturing capacity, demand for this treatment will initially outstrip supply.

Reserving capacity now ensures that, if the efficacy of these monoclonal antibodies is proven, low-and-middle-income countries will also be able to benefit from this treatment at the same time as high-income countries – rather than potentially waiting for years for the supply to become available.

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.

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.

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.

Facilitating access to Rapid Diagnostic Tests in LMICs

In September 2020, the Diagnostics Partnership came together to facilitate access to 120 million rapid tests for low-and middle-income countries.

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

The units from developers SD Biosensor and Abbott will be made available at a maximum cost of $5 per test.

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.

This end-to-end solution is the result of a collaboration between Unitaid, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Global Fund, FIND, CHAI and Africa CDC to each take responsibility for different stages of the plan, from securing volume guarantees to working on in-country preparedness.

Unitaid and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) have combined resources to initiate the roll out of these tests in up to 20 countries in Africa.

This intervention is designed to engage multiple partners active in the COVID-19 response in these countries, such as CHAI, African Society for Laboratory Medicine (ASLM) and local organisations.

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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