A World Health Organization-led programme to ensure poorer countries get fair access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments aim to secure antiviral drugs for patients with mild symptoms for as little as $10 per course, a draft document seen by Reuters says.

The plans highlight how the WHO wants to shore up supplies of drugs and tests at a relatively low price after losing the vaccine race to wealthy nations which scooped up a huge share of the world’s supplies, leaving the world’s poorest countries with few shots.

A spokesperson for the ACT-A said the document, dated October 13, was still a draft under consultation and declined to comment on its content before it is finalized. The document will also be sent to global leaders ahead of a G20 summit in Rome at the end of this month.

The ACT-A asks the G20 and other donors for additional funding of $22.8 billion until September 2022 which will be needed to buy and distribute vaccines, drugs, and tests to poorer nations and narrow the huge gaps in supply between wealthy and less advanced countries. Donors have so far pledged $18.5 billion to the programme.

Other pills to treat mild patients are being developed, but molnupiravir is the only one that has so far shown positive results in late-stage trials. The ACT-A is in talks with Merck & Co and generics producers to buy the drug.

The price is very low if compared with the $700 per course that the United States has agreed to pay for 1.7 million courses of treatment.

Another 4.3 million courses of repurposed COVID-19 pills to treat critical patients are also expected to be purchased at a price of $28 per course, the document says, without naming any specific drug.

The push on tests is meant to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, as only 0.4 per cent of the about three billion tests reported across the world have been conducted in poor nations, the document says.

The document underlines that “vaccine access is highly inequitable with coverage ranging from one % to over 70 %, depending largely on a country’s wealth.”

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