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WHO Updates Essential Diagnostics List, Urges Countries to Prioritize Investments in Testing

NEW YORK ─ The World Health Organization on Friday announced that it has published the latest edition of its essential diagnostics list (EDL) of recommended in vitro diagnostic tests that should be available at the point of care and in laboratories in all countries to increase timely and lifesaving diagnoses, and it urged countries to prioritize investments in testing.

The new edition includes WHO-recommended COVID-19 tests, including PCR and antigen tests, and expands the suite of tests for vaccine-preventable and infectious diseases and non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, WHO said.

Further, for the first time, the list includes tests that the WHO recommends should not be supplied in countries, either because they are not cost-effective, are unreliable, or have been surpassed by newer technologies, and the publication includes a section on endocrinology, which is important for reproductive and women’s health.

The EDL is an evidence-based guide that looks at disease prevalence globally and recommends an appropriate test for each condition. That guide aims not only to help health systems provide accurate diagnoses, it also saves precious health resources that would otherwise be wasted on inappropriate treatment or lengthy hospital stays, the WHO said.

The EDL recommends numerous diagnostic tests that should be available at primary care or community levels in addition to tests intended for use in laboratories. The list is not prescriptive but is intended as a policy tool for countries to create their own national lists based on their local context and needs, the WHO said.

"Access to quality tests and laboratory services is like having a good radar system that gets you where you need to go. Without it, you’re flying blind," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

The process for publishing the EDL is overseen by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on In Vitro Diagnostics (SAGE IVD), a group of specialists from around the world with experience in the field of IVDs and their implementation, their use, regulation, and evaluation. The experts evaluate data on the usefulness, impact, and accuracy of each test considered in order to decide which should be recommended.

The WHO said that it will soon also publish a step-by-step guide to aid countries wanting to develop a national list. So far, the Geneva-based organization has worked with Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan to support the development of their national EDLs, and it is currently in discussions with mostly African countries that have requested assistance to boost their diagnostic services.

The WHO released its second Model List of Essential In Vitro Diagnostics in July 2019 and, at the time, provided an updated list that built on its first list released in May 2018.

Last February, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) and the WHO announced a new effort to improve access to diagnostics in resource-poor countries and to support expanded disease surveillance.