Give life-saving diagnostic tests greater priority

The UK’s Academy of Medical Sciences calls for the establishment of an international body to advocate for rapid diagnostic tests for existing and emerging diseases


The development of rapid diagnostic tests that identify existing and emerging diseases, such as Ebola or SARS, with the same speed and efficiency as a pregnancy test, is being hindered by lack of profile and financial barriers, according to a report from the UK Academy of Medical Sciences.

Such tests can play a critical role in tackling antibiotic resistance and need to be prioritised by governments and funders, alongside drug and vaccine development, to improve global health.

Financial incentives are required to encourage companies to develop new tests. Rapid diagnostic tests are not always seen as being a lucrative market for big companies, while smaller companies may not have the resources to scale up production.

The report, ‘Improving the development and deployment of rapid diagnostic tests in Low and Middle Income Countries’ published today (20 April), summarises the conclusions of an international meeting held in London last November to discuss the growth of this technology and how rapid diagnostic tests could be accelerated to become widely adopted globally.

 It highlights the need for the establishment of a new international body to advocate for rapid diagnostic tests, share information and coordinate international research and development efforts.

The report also proposes the creation of an essential diagnostics list to raise the profile of the most important diagnostics required for a functioning healthcare system, similar to the World Health Organisation’s Essential Medicines List.

The report stresses the major social and global benefits that rapid diagnostic tests can provide, such as targeting the use of antibiotics only to those who will benefit, limiting unnecessary use and delaying the development of antibiotic resistance.

Rapid diagnostics are essential for disease surveillance to support healthcare planning and to identify, monitor and control emerging infections such as Zika virus and pandemic influenza.

Sanjeev Krishna, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences said, “We need diagnostics to move into the spotlight, taking their rightful place as a priority alongside drugs and vaccines to improve global health. Governments around the world will need to prioritise development and implementation of rapid diagnostics, while a new international body is needed to help coordinate global efforts.”

Rapid diagnostic tests are particularly useful in countries with less developed healthcare systems. Developing rapid diagnostic tests for these countries is challenging, because they have to be both economical and robust enough to cope with difficult environmental conditions.

The report summarises the conclusions of a workshop that brought together 56 experts from countries including the UK, Nigeria, Morocco, Guatemala, Uganda, Philippines, Brazil, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Trinidad and Tobago. The meeting was organised by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the InterAcademy Partnership for Health, with funding from the UK global challenges research fund.

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Related subjects: diagnostics, Emerging diseases