Ministries of health call for more affordable diagnostic tests

Danaher and Cepheid insist on charging exorbitant prices for lifesaving medical tests despite health needs and urgent demands for price reductions.

GeneXpert diagnostic testing at the MSF managed Gujranwala PMDT site

Pakistan 2023 © Gabriella Bianchi/MSF

NEW YORK/GENEVA, June 18, 2024 — As Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) continues to demand US corporation Danaher, which owns diagnostics maker Cepheid, take urgent steps to lower the prices of GeneXpert tests to $5, officials from ministries of health in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Ukraine, Belarus, and several other low- and middle-income countries are now calling for the same.

While Danaher announced a price reduction of the primary GeneXpert test used to diagnose tuberculosis (TB) from $9.98 to $7.97 in September amid pressure from TB activists, the tests for extensively drug-resistant TB (XDR-TB), HIV, and hepatitis are still priced out of reach at $14.90 per test. MSF published a study in 2019 showing that the GeneXpert tests can be sold at $5 each by Danaher and Cepheid while still making significant profits.

“We have learned that the ministries of health from at least seven countries have written letters to Danaher, requesting immediate action to lower the prices of the GeneXpert test cartridges supplied by Cepheid,” said Stijn Deborggraeve, diagnostics advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “It is extremely disappointing that none of these countries have yet received any response from Danaher, nor has there been any announcement by the corporation regarding price reductions of the GeneXpert tests for HIV, hepatitis, or other diseases. We call on Danaher to listen to these countries’ demands and reduce the prices of all these lifesaving medical tests immediately.”

The price reduction announced nine months ago for the primary TB test to $7.97 is expected to result in annual savings of $32 million for the international procurement agency, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, enabling it to purchase an additional 3.6 million tests every year. As a result, many more people with TB will receive timely diagnosis and treatment and, ultimately, more lives will be saved. Reducing the test prices to $5 for all tests now would immensely help low- and middle-income countries—and medical humanitarian organizations such as MSF—carry out timely testing and treatment of people affected by other diseases including XDR-TB, HIV, and hepatitis. This is especially important given the limited budgets of low- and middle-income countries for treating and controlling these diseases.

“My country has a significantly high number of people living with HIV and hepatitis, many of whom live in remote areas where point-of-care Xpert tests are a must to avoid considerable delays in receiving results from far away testing labs,” said Dr. Stephen Ayisi Addo, program manager of the National AIDS/STI Control Program of Ghana. “Rapid turnaround times are particularly important to start timely treatment. But the high price of your cartridges continues to be a barrier for us to scale up testing. We ask Danaher to reduce the price of the Xpert HIV and hepatitis C and B viral load test cartridges to no more than $7.97—the same price as the Xpert TB test. We can’t accept that we must pay double the price for a test that can help us to diagnose people with HIV and hepatitis.”

In addition to letters sent by country programs, the Institute of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease of Poland sent Danaher a letter to reduce the excessive price of the TB tests in Poland. Also, the Americas TB Coalition, representing over 17 countries in the Latin American and Caribbean region, reiterated this demand in their letter.