Data for decisions

Diagnostic testing provides data that power sustainable, resilient health systems.

“Is this person’s cough due to a common cold, or TB?”

“Does this child need urgent medical attention?”

“Are we seeing a new variant of COVID-19?”

“Is this bug resistant to this drug?”

“How can I invest my health budget to reach more people?”

These are just some of the kinds of questions that diagnostic testing helps to answer. Early diagnosis has been consistently linked to improved health outcomes and reduced out-of-pocket spending, and disease surveillance provides critical data to inform public health action.

In short, quality, timely diagnosis is an essential enabler of health for all.

However, diagnosis remains the weakest link in the care cascade, with basic diagnostic capacity available in just 1% of primary care clinics in some low- and middle-income countries. No diagnostic tests exist for 60% of the “Blueprint” pathogens, which have been identified by WHO as having the greatest outbreak potential. There is no appropriate test for 50% of the top 20 diseases responsible for the most lives lost.

This lack of availability and access to quality, reliable tests threatens our ability to respond to health emergencies, and jeopardizes the achievement of universal health coverage.

In an ideal health ecosystem, diagnostics are available from the community level through to the highest level of the health system, and well connected through efficient sample referral systems. People are able to access affordable testing throughout the health system, including in their community, or in the convenience and privacy of their own home. Results from tests are used inform appropriate treatment, particularly the use of antibiotics and other antimicrobials, to prevent antimicrobial resistance developing. And effective, connected systems for disease surveillance inform epidemic readiness and act as early-warning systems for outbreak response.

Today, we are far from this reality. We are working with our partners to change that, and make sure that everyone who needs a test can get one.

The Lancet Commission on diagnostics

The Lancet Commission on diagnostics was published in 2021, putting forward recommendations to accelerate and transform access to diagnostics globally.