The executive board of UNITAID has approved funding of $30 million to rollout the Gene Xpert machine to scale up TB diagnosis in 20 countries. In addition, the Stop TB Partnership initiative TB REACH will co-fund up to $10 million to support implementation of the TB tests in countries, bringing the total amount committed to $40 million.
This is very exciting news considering that most developing countries still diagnose TB by looking at a sputum sample under a microscope – a method that only detects about half of all cases and cannot identify drug resistant strains of TB. GeneXpert MTB/RIF is a relatively new and rapid diagnostic tool that was endorsed by the WHO in December 2010.
Xpert detects close to 80% of TB cases within two hours and is able to identify resistance to the drug rifampicin, one of the main first-line drugs used to treat TB. Being able to detect resistance to rifampicin is also a strong indicator for multi-drug resistance, meaning a greater number of multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB) cases will be found. Prior to Xpert, the only way to determine if a patient had drug resistant TB was to grow a bacteria culture, which can take weeks for results, meaning patients return to their communities and potentially infect others before receiving a diagnosis.
During RESULTS UK’s delegation to South Africa in February, we were told by doctors at the Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, a province with very high rates of TB and drug resistant TB, that Xpert will “completely revolutionise” the way the world diagnoses TB.
In addition to funding rollout of the machines, UNITAID has also reached an agreement with the manufacturer of Xpert that will significantly reduce the price of diagnostic cartridges from $17 to less than $10.
UNITAID is a global health financing mechanism that was established in 2006. It provides tools to prevent, diagnose and treat TB, HIV and malaria to 94 low and middle income countries. It uses a targeted market approach to provide quality low cost diagnostics and medicines to those who need them the most.
TB REACH is currently supported by the Canadian Government and provides funding for TB projects aiming to increase TB detection and has been the single largest supporter of Xpert rollout to date.