Boosting the availability of affordable, quality-assured COVID-19 tests

Diagnostic testing for COVID-19 has been key to the global response to the pandemic. In 2021, UNICEF shipped 12.4 million tests worth $77 million to 66 countries, helping ensure more equitable access to vital diagnostic tools.

A man gets tested for COVID-19 with an antigen test kit.
UNICEF/UN0594441/Al Asad
31 March 2022

From the onset of the pandemic, quality-assured COVID-19 diagnostic tests were an essential tool, allowing governments to track the level and spread of infections and put measures in place to limit transmission. But many low- and middle-income countries lacked sufficient testing equipment and facilities, making it harder for them to contain outbreaks.

Delivering affordable diagnostic tests

During 2021, UNICEF was one of the leading agencies procuring and delivering COVID-19 tests to countries around the world. To enable equitable and affordable access to diagnostics, UNICEF pooled demand and engaged with suppliers and partners to negotiate pricing for quality-assured test kits for global distribution.

In total, UNICEF delivered 7 million rapid diagnostic tests and 5.4 million molecular tests for manual and automated use, as well as isolation kits, sample collection kits and laboratory equipment required for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing.

All diagnostics in the UNICEF Supply Catalogue are quality-assured by the World Health Organization. They are also available at some of the most competitive prices on the market. In late 2021, UNICEF added the most affordable PCR test kit in its portfolio, available at just $2.80 per test.

In the course of the year, UNICEF expanded its COVID-19 diagnostics manufacturer base to 19 suppliers, helping overcome supply constraints and ensuring uninterrupted access to COVID-19 diagnostics for low- and middle-income countries.

Partnerships for results

Through the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) and in collaboration with other partners, UNICEF has been working to expand global access to testing equipment and the roll out of tests wherever they are most needed. This included negotiating price reductions for select tests and collaborating on 13 operational research projects and 21 advocacy projects in low- and middle-income countries to support scale-up of testing at the community level. To complement these initiatives, UNICEF continued its global advocacy work to help increase COVID-19 testing levels, while encouraging countries to support decentralization of testing for early outbreak detection and as part of a test-and-treat approach. 

In addition, ACT-A supported research and development investments in quality-assured rapid antigen tests for manufacturing in Brazil, China, India and Senegal. A request for proposals was also issued to accelerate the manufacturing availability of molecular diagnostics in low- and middle-income countries, with four suppliers from the Republic of Korea, Sweden and the USA selected.

The Government of Australia pledged Aus$5 million to support the procurement of testing equipment through UNICEF’s ACT-A Supplies Financing Facility. UNICEF also procured 600,000 COVID-19 diagnostic tests worth $3 million for 12 countries through UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children Appeal.