The development of rapid diagnostic tests to 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, suggests a joint report from a meeting organised by the Academy of Medical Sciences and the InterAcademy Partnership for Health.
Such tests, which can also play a critical role in tackling antibiotic resistance, need to be prioritised by governments and funders internationally alongside drugs and vaccine development to improve global health.
The report, 'Improving the development and deployment of rapid diagnostic tests in Low and Middle Income Countries', published today (20 April 2017 in the UK), summarises the conclusions of an international meeting held in London on the 21 November 2016, 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 WHO Essential Medicines List.
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, were stressed at the meeting.
Rapid diagnostics were also described as essential for disease surveillance to support healthcare planning, to spot trends such as antibiotic resistance, and to identify, monitor and control emerging infections such as Zika virus and pandemic influenza.
Professor Sanjeev Krishna, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, who chaired the meeting, said: "Diagnostics save lives - doctors cannot treat a disease properly unless they know what it is. Rapid diagnostic tests are also essential for tackling major healthcare challenges, such as controlling emerging diseases and reducing antibiotic resistance.
"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."
Financial incentives are also required to encourage companies to develop new tests, the report suggests. 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.
Rapid diagnostic tests are particularly useful in countries where there are less developed healthcare systems, such as low and middle-income countries. 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.
Professor Sanjeev Krishna, added: "Everyone has heard of a pregnancy test -- a cheap, portable and efficient handheld diagnostic. We need to see more of these types of test developed for infectious diseases and we need to see them used widely in countries with less developed healthcare systems to quickly and cheaply identify disease.
"We have seen great successes with rapid diagnostic tests for malaria, HIV and TB, but we need to do more to build on this. Rapid diagnostics tests that can work in real world conditions and can be operated with minimum training could completely transform the way we treat patients, but we need the political will, financial incentive and coordination of effort to move forwards."
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 workshop 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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Notes for editors
1. The Academy of Medical Sciences is the independent body in the UK representing the diversity of medical science. Our mission is to promote medical science and its translation into benefits for society. The Academy's elected Fellows are the United Kingdom's leading medical scientists from hospitals, academia, industry and the public service. We work with them to promote excellence, influence policy to improve health and wealth, nurture the next generation of medical researchers, link academia, industry and the NHS, seize international opportunities and encourage dialogue about the medical sciences. http://www.acmedsci.ac.uk
2. The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries through:
- challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research
- strengthening capacity for research and innovation within both the UK and developing countries
- providing an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need. GCRF is administered through delivery partners including the Research Councils and national academies.
GCRF forms part of the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment, which is monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). ODA-funded activities focus on outcomes that promote the long-term sustainable growth of countries on the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list. GCRF funding is awarded in a manner that fits with Official ODA guidelines.
3. For more information on the Academy's GCRF programme of workshops please visit http://www.acmedsci.ac.uk/GCRF.
4. The InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) is an umbrella organisation that brings together three international network of academies of science and medicine: IAP for Science, IAP for Research and IAP for Health. Its more than 130 national and regional member academies, including 78 in the IAP for Health section, harness the expertise of scientific, medical and engineering leaders to advance sound policies, promote excellence in science education, improve public health and achieve other critical development goals. The InterAcademy Partnership that brought together the three original networks was formally established in March 2016. For more information, see http://www.interacadmies.org.