US diagnostics corporation Cepheid, which produces the GeneXpert testing machines that run COVID-19 tests, along with tuberculosis (TB), HIV, hepatitis C and other tests, has announced that it will reduce the price of its new 10-color IV-4 GeneXpert machines from US$19,000 to $15,800, and additionally offer countries buying those machines ‘100 COVID-19 tests for free’. Similar bundled price reductions for the larger XVI GeneXpert machines and COVID-19 and TB tests have also been announced.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) acknowledges the reduced price for the newest GeneXpert machines but is deeply concerned that this is not what countries need today in their COVID-19 response. Reducing the price of the testing machines is a meaningless concession if countries cannot afford the COVID-19 tests to run on the machines; and the 100 free COVID-19 tests offered with the IV machine – which is most frequently used – is merely a fraction of what is needed in countries.
MSF together with the Treatment Action Group (TAG) and more than 140 other civil society organisations sent open letters on 24 February and 1 April to express concerns about the devastating impact of Cepheid overcharging low- and middle-income countries for COVID-19 tests, and to ask for a significant and immediate price reduction of the tests. Cepheid has set the price for each COVID-19 test at $19.80, which is at least 400% more than it costs the corporation to produce the test, based on MSF’s analysis of the cost of manufacturing Cepheid’s similar TB and HIV tests. The analysis shows that the corporation could still make a profit by selling each test for $5 or less.
This price reduction by Cepheid for its newest class of testing machines does not meet the needs of countries in this pandemic: although many countries have invested in Cepheid’s machines over the last decade to address TB, HIV and other diseases, they now cannot access the COVID-19 tests to run on the same machines because of Cepheid’s unaffordable pricing, as recently reported by Reuters. MSF calls again on Cepheid to reduce the price of the COVID-19 test and all other GeneXpert tests to no more than $5 each. It is unacceptable that Cepheid sells the COVID-19 tests to low- and middle-income countries at a price over four times higher than it costs to produce the test, while Cepheid’s annual revenue has doubled during the pandemic, reaching over $2 billion, largely from the sale of COVID-19 tests.
Stijn Deborggraeve, Diagnostics Advisor, MSF Access Campaign:
“Cepheid’s announcement today is another sign that the corporation is not actually willing to make a real commitment to increasing access to affordable tests in low- and middle-income countries, and is prioritising its profits over people’s lives. Cepheid’s price ‘reduction’ is not a meaningful reduction, but rather appears to be a way to promote their newer testing devices. The COVID-19 pandemic should not be used by Cepheid to profiteer by charging low- and middle-income countries over four times the price it costs to produce the COVID-19 tests. It’s high time for Cepheid to do what’s right and immediately provide countries with real price reductions for the COVID-19 test, so more tests can be run and more people diagnosed as the pandemic continues to rage across many parts of the globe.”
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