Diagnostics that find disease fast

Diagnosis is crucial to effective treatment

Before patients can be treated, they must be diagnosed. But for many in the developing world, accurate and rapid diagnosis of many diseases and conditions is out of reach. Without these tools, patients are often incorrectly diagnosed or not diagnosed at all, and the cause of their illness goes unrecognized until later stages of the disease. By this time, the individual’s health is already compromised, and treatments—if they are available at all—may be more expensive and less effective. Without appropriate diagnosis and treatment, it is also likely that the infection has spread to many others.

Unfortunately, tools for diagnosing disease in low-resource settings are often insufficient, outdated, or ineffective. They may not be designed for the realities of low-resource settings. Tests common in wealthy countries often require sophisticated laboratories, highly trained staff, high costs, or multiple visits from patients who must travel long distances to see a health care provider. These resources are not often available in remote settings. In the case of sleeping sickness, for example, diagnostic tools rely on microscopy, a technique that requires expensive equipment and technical expertise in using such equipment—both of which can present challenges in remote settings where the disease is prevalent.

Must be affordable, appropriate

A primary challenge is to develop low-cost diagnostics that are adapted to conditions in low- and middle-income countries and can be used to inform point-of-service treatment. In addition, the diagnostics must be affordable, and health care providers must have the support and training needed to use the new tests and tools successfully.

Globally, researchers are making progress in developing effective, low-cost diagnostics. A recently introduced test for tuberculosis (TB) was developed with support from the US government and partners from the nonprofit, philanthropic, and academic sectors. The test takes less than two hours from start to finish to diagnose TB, and is expected to triple the number of patients diagnosed with drug-resistant TB worldwide. Other research is making headway in developing new, low-cost tests for neglected tropical diseases such as sleeping sickness and leishmaniasis. These new and improved tests, especially those that can deliver results in a matter of hours, will allow appropriate treatment to begin rapidly, giving patients a better chance at survival.

For more information on the above data, see:

PATH. Advancing appropriate and accessible point-of-care diagnostics

Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics. Diseases and Projects.

Global Health Technologies Coalition and Policy Cures. Saving lives and creating impact: Why investing in global health research works.


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