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 US Agency for International Development, Unitaid and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced an agreement that will 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 test cartridges (in which the sputum sample is gathered before being placed in the machine) from $16,86 (R137)to $9,98, a price, which will not increase until 2022.

The effective date that this price decrease came into effect was Monday this week.

To date, the high unit cost of test 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 disease 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 can also be used outside of conventional laboratories because it is self-contained and does not require specialised training. The World Health Organisation 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 test,” said Dr Lucica Ditiu, 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 and there is a belief that greater access to the test offers a significant advance in the capacity of health-care workers to diagnose TB quickly and help reduce transmission, the development of TB disease and deaths.

“This is a game-changer for TB and health-care delivery and I applaud the visionary support of all partners and Unitaid,” said Dr Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Stop-TB department.

“We see innovation happening in real time – scientific evidence rapidly translated into policy, policy quickly adapted into practice, and scale-up significantly accelerated by innovative funding mechanisms effectively addressing cost and affordability.” – Health-e News Service