The price of a rapid diagnostic test, which slashes the time to reach a diagnosis for the most common drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, has almost been halved.

The US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief, the United States Agency for International Development, Unitaid, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced an agreement that will significantly reduce the cost of the rapid TB diagnostic test Xpert MTB/RIF in 145 high-burden and developing countries, including SA.

Funds provided by this partnership will reduce the cost of Xpert MTB/RIF cartridges (in which the sputum sample is gathered before being placed in the machine) from $16.86 (R137.40) to $9.98, a price, which will not increase until 2022.

The effective date of this price decrease was on Monday this week.

To date, the high unit cost of Xpert MTB/RIF cartridges produced by the medical device manufacturer Cepheid has proved a barrier to their introduction and widespread use in low- and middle-income countries.

The new agreement will immediately reduce the cost of cartridges used to diagnose TB by more than 40 percent.

Xpert is a molecular diagnostic system that can detect TB in patients co-infected with HIV and resistance to the antibiotic rifampicin – a widely accepted indicator of the presence of multi-drug-resistant TB – in less than two hours.

The system also can be used outside of conventional laboratories because it is self-contained and does not require specialised training.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) endorsed the Xpert MTB/RIF assay in December 2010.

“We are proud that the WHO Stop TB Department and Stop TB Partnership laid the groundwork for this exciting initiative by developing and advancing a proposal for Unitaid to lower the price of the Xpert test,” said Dr Lucica Ditiu, the executive secretary of the Stop TB Partnership. “This agreement will translate into life-saving TB care for people affected by TB.”

TB is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV in Africa. – Health-e News Service