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Antimicrobial Resistance 2020

Diagnostic tests are vital in the fight against antimicrobial resistance

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Doris-Ann Williams MBE

Chief Executive, British In Vitro Diagnostics Association

The coronavirus pandemic has focussed the world’s attention on the role and importance of diagnostic testing.


Diagnostic tests provide essential data to support treatment decisions; 70% of patient information comes from diagnostic tests. Many tests are done in hospital laboratories, but increasingly, technological improvements are enabling access to tests outside traditional settings.

Keeping the focus on the AMR crisis

Diagnostic testing is also critical to managing antimicrobial resistance (AMR). During this year, AMR, like so many other healthcare issues and diseases, has been overlooked while the global population struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet AMR remains a global health disaster that is already killing 700,000 people a year. It is predicted to cause 10 million deaths each year by 2050 if the current situation is not improved.

70% of patient information comes from diagnostic tests.

Hence it is vital to remember that this huge threat to public health has not gone away. We need to reduce the inappropriate use of both antibiotics and antimicrobials, to ensure they remain active against pathogens when needed most.

Helping to diagnose patients more efficiently

Diagnostic testing can play a key role in antibiotic stewardship. For example; managing winter hospital admissions with influenza or pneumonia. Tests can distinguish between a bacterial or viral infection, allowing their symptoms to be treated most appropriately.

Critically ill patients with suspected infection need to be tested to diagnose the underlying pathogen, or alternatively to rule-out sepsis which can rapidly become fatal or leave people with life changing damage.

Furthermore, with COVID-19, almost all patients admitted to hospital are given a five-day course of empiric antibiotics despite the low incidence of bacterial superinfections. Using diagnostic tests gives clinicians confidence to stop inappropriate antibiotics much earlier, helping the fight against AMR.

Diagnostic tests provide critical pieces of information to support patient treatments and to monitor if treatments are effective. While the tests can seem simple, there is an entire segment of the life sciences industry concentrating on developing and manufacturing these tools and the equipment required to perform them using the latest biotechnology. These are the weapons we need to deploy on the frontline in this ongoing battle against AMR.

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