November 4, 2014 |

The future of field-appropriate diagnostics

At PATH, we call these game-changing technologies. And we believe the outcomes result in an extraordinary return on investment.
Adolescent holding an infant.
Eliminating neglected tropical diseases are the focus of diagnostic tools and innovations. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Editor’s note: PATH has announced the launch of a new diagnostic test for river blindness with manufacturing partner Standard Diagnostics, Inc.

The future is quick, nimble, and surprisingly simple

River blindness is one of 17 neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) the World Health Organization (WHO) has targeted for control, elimination, or eradication by 2020. A new rapid test is a bold first step by PATH to support reaching these targets.

“What’s needed now is quick action to add this simple test to control and elimination programs.” said David C. Kaslow, vice president for Product Development at PATH.

Over the next several years, PATH will leverage its expertise, innovation, and global partnerships to speed the development of a suite of diagnostic tools to help eliminate other NTDs. Together, these collaborative efforts will reduce suffering, improve health equity, and help communities thrive worldwide.

“The lack of sensitive, effective, and field-ready diagnostic tests for NTDs is a critical gap in the global health community’s ability to direct control and elimination efforts and track progress in the fight against NTDs,” says Tala de los Santos, group leader of Diagnostics at PATH.

A battle against the scourges

Neglected tropical diseases are a set of infectious diseases that affect more than one billion people worldwide, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. They cause significant illness, disability, pain, and suffering, and their effects are especially hard on women and children. Women often have to care for sick family members, limiting their opportunities as well as making them vulnerable to infection; children are also at high risk of infection, and their physical and cognitive growth are negatively impacted by these diseases. The effects of NTDs on health and development contribute to keeping the world’s most vulnerable communities trapped in a cycle of illness and poverty.

Gloved hands applying a blood sample to a malaria diagnostic next to a test log and pill packet nearby.
A health worker applies a blood sample to a malaria diagnostic test as part of the Malaria Control and Evaluation Partnership in Lusaka, Zambia. Photo: PATH/Gena Morgan.

It’s not all about the apps; they must be appropriate tools

Diagnostic tools play a crucial role in the entire surveillance process. Their impact can be felt from initial mapping of an endemic area to confirming elimination. And in many cases, confirming an area has eliminated a disease can be challenging.

Anurag Mairal, Technology Solutions leader at PATH, agrees: “Vaccines and drugs typically take priority in the fight against neglected diseases. But without diagnostics, it’s hard to know whether a program is having an impact.”

Add to the fact that many current diagnostic tests require a person travel to a clinic, often miles away from their rural community, before they can receive the correct treatment. It’s just one more argument for the development of field-based tests that are rapid, simple, and accurate.

Additional resources will be needed to ensure that tests are produced and made available to national NTD control and elimination programs. Once these are applied in the field, the new tests can help to guide policy and further political and financial support for NTD programs. To that end, PATH will work with partners to identify opportunities to bring these products to market.

At PATH, we call these opportunities to improve the health and livelihoods of people game-changing technologies. And we believe the outcomes result in an extraordinary return on investment.

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  • Portrait of Tracy Romoser. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.
    Tracy Romoser was formerly a communications officer and the blog editor at PATH.