14 June 2012 - Geneva - The executive board of UNITAID yesterday approved funding of US$ 30 million to scale up access to Xpert MTB/RIF, and reduce the cost of its use. In addition, the Stop TB Partnership’s TB REACH initiative, which is, supported by the Canadian Government, will co-fund up to US$ 10 million for the implementation of the tests in countries, drawing upon its experience gained so far in the early introduction of the test in selected countries. To date, TB REACH has been the single largest supporter of Xpert roll out in multiple countries.
"We are delighted that UNITAID has approved this project on Xpert, which will make this innovative diagnostic test available to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, providing great opportunities to save more lives. This will accelerate our efforts to reach the 3 million people who fail to access accurate TB diagnosis and high-qualitytreatment every year," said Dr Lucica Ditiu, Executive Secretary of the Stop TB Partnership.
"In particular, the test will equip us to find TB among children and people living HIV - in whom the disease is not easily diagnosed through other available methods. Also, because Xpert detects resistance to rifampicin, which is a strong indicator for multidrug resistance, this means we will find more MDR-TB," she said. "It is essential that all people diagnosed with TB or MDR-TB have access to high-quality treatment and care."
The Xpert assay represents a major advance for the diagnosis of tuberculosis, as it is based on the recognition of the DNA of the tuberculosis bacillus and provides dependable results directly from sputum samples in less than 2 hours. This method of diagnosis is much more reliable than microscopy, currently used in most laboratories.
"This diagnostic breakthrough will only trigger a reduction of the TB burden if testing is followed by effective treatment. UNITAID calls on Governments and donors to identify sufficient funding for this purpose in the coming years," said Dr Denis Broun, Executive Director of UNITAID.
Through the agreement reached by UNITAID, the United States Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the manufacturer of Xpert, Cepheid, will significantly reduce the price of diagnostic cartridges from today’s $17 to less than $10.
This price reduction will allow an accelerated roll-out of the test, which was endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in December 2010. It will apply to more than 145 purchasers in low and middle income countries, including those with high-burden of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis and co-infection of HIV and tuberculosis.
Xpert, once introduced and widely scaled-up, is expected to dramatically reduce the diagnostic gaps for TB, in particular in its multi-drug resistant form, or associated with an HIV infection.