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WHO's Essential Diagnostics List Could Help Countries Assess True Burden of Disease

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been releasing its essential medicines list (EML), every 2 years, since 1977, providing a roadmap for clinicians and advocates seeking to ensure populations have access to needed drugs in anticipation of public health crises.
Now, the international agency is expanding its guidance to include diagnostic equipment and other vital technologies, following years of lobbying from clinicians, researchers, and industry groups alike. The so-called “essential diagnostics list” (EDL) will be released later this year.
“It’s clear that treatment of an illness will not be effective if it is not diagnosed correctly,” Suzanne Hill, PhD, Director of Essential Medicines and Health Products, WHO, said in a statement announcing the initiative. “The EDL will be another useful tool to help countries address their disease burden by focusing on evidence-based diagnostic tools.”
According to WHO, the EDL will be similar to the EML—of which the most recent edition was released June 6, 2017—in that it is “intended to provide evidence-based guidance to countries to create their own national lists of essential diagnostic tests and tools.” Such lists, the organization reports, have in the past helped countries, particularly those in the developing world, “facilitate[e] access to treatment and promot[e] affordable prices” by setting priorities in assessing drug needs. “It is expected that national essential diagnostics lists will provide the same benefits for diagnostic tests,” the WHO statement adds.
As a first step, the organization is forming a Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on In Vitro Diagnostics (SAGE IVD), which will serve in an advisory capacity and make recommendations as to the diagnostic equipment to be included on the EDL. As the title of the advisory panel indicates, the first EDL will focus on in vitro diagnostics (IVDs) for tuberculosis (TB), malaria, HIV and hepatitis B and C. However, WHO plans to expand the list “as soon as possible” to include other “communicable diseases.”
One organization that is pleased with the new initiative on the part of the WHO is the Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC), a coalition of 27 nonprofits that advocates for public policy designed to speed the creation of new healthcare technologies, including drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tools. According to director Jamie Bay Nishi, GHTC has been pushing for the creation of the EDL for more than a year, and the organization attended the WHO’s 70th World Health Assembly in May 2017 as part of this effort.

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