WHO issues COVID testing guidance long after critics urged

The World Health Organization says it has released a guide advising people on how to test themselves for the coronavirus, months after critics said the lack of guidance jeopardizes efforts to end the pandemic in poor countries.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the agency is concerned that some countries are drastically reducing testing for COVID-19 as the virus appears to be receding in parts of the world. The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths have dropped significantly in recent weeks, according to the WHO.

“Self-testing remains a vital tool in our fight against COVID as part of a comprehensive strategy,” Tedros said, adding that not testing would harm authorities’ efforts to trace the disease.

Some activists have long denounced the lack of WHO guidance on self-testing as a major handicap for poor countries, noting that donors are reluctant to buy them in the absence of any WHO advice. While people in many rich countries have had easy access to rapid tests for months, self-test kits have rarely been available in poor countries, hindering efforts to slow the pandemic.

For this reason, numerous health officials have repeatedly pleaded with the WHO for guidance on self-testing.

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Tedros said the new self-testing recommendation will hopefully eliminate the disparity in testing.

“We hope our new recommendations will also help expand access to testing, which is too expensive for many low-income countries, where these tools can play an important role in expanding testing,” he said.

Unlike massive efforts to procure and equitably distribute COVID-19 vaccines, little effort has been made to scale up mass testing in poor countries. Even with WHO guidance published this week, some experts estimate that self-test kits will not become widely available in developing countries until 2023.

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