Tony Cambridge MSc., BSc.,
Lead Biomedical Scientist, Pathology Management, Blood Sciences and Point of Care Testing. Managing Director, Thornhill Healthcare Events and Consultancy
The worldwide COVID-19 response has provided a blueprint for the management of infectious diseases moving forward.
Although rapidly devised and rolled out, the systems for testing, recording and sharing infection data has led to strategies in each global territory for controlling the spread of infection during the pandemic. Clearly that response can be refined and applied to outbreaks of many other communicable infections, promoting containment and avoiding pandemics.
Rapid diagnostics and point of care tests
Research and commercial diagnostic sectors have been in overdrive, providing novel tools required to identify infections whilst establishing reliable supply of equipment and testing consumables.
Similarly, healthcare providers have worked tirelessly to grow the capacity to test, relying heavily on staff to work around the clock in supporting patient care. The wide adoption of new platforms has occurred at an astonishing rate, from evaluation to roll out, and has allowed the scale of infection to be understood in most territories.
In combination with laboratory confirmatory testing, there is now a move towards decentralised tests (point of care tests) including rapid PCR and lateral flow devices which seek to identify both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections. Widespread roll out may offer future assurance around the extent of community infections to avoid imposing restrictions.
Future contingency plans must ensure that the diagnostics sector is well established to respond to new challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown what can be achieved from a standing start. Now is the time to develop a global network of research, diagnostics and manufacturing capacity capable of responding to novel infectious diseases.
The design of contingencies must include the rapid mobilisation of key components: workforce, manufacturing, testing capacity and vaccinations. Investment in these areas, where capacity can be expanded quickly, is essential for an effective response.
Now is the time to develop a global network of research, diagnostics and manufacturing capacity capable of responding to novel infectious diseases.
Future diagnostic accessibility
A global response requires global cooperation. Although a standardised approach may not fit all territories, the concept of establishing a united response must be high on the agenda for leaders in governments and health organisations.
Following the NHS England publication, Diagnostics: Recovery and Renewal, consideration is being given to a new diagnostics model creating diagnostic hubs in locations away from main hospital sites.
The emergence of home testing and tests performed in non-healthcare settings may become common place in the future. As this concept is realised, it is paramount that standardisation is maintained, avoiding a diagnostics lottery associated with geographical regions. Striking the balance globally is essential for socio-economic consistency and protecting public health.