World Health Assembly nod signals revolution in Africa’s diagnostics


CS Health Nakhumicha Wafula meeting Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Director General of the World Health Organization on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland on May 14, 2023. PHOTO | POOL

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board voted in favour of including the resolution “Strengthening diagnostics capacity” on the World Health Assembly (WHA) 2023 agenda.

This is a critical victory for African people.

It signalled a firm understanding by the WHO of the importance of increasing access to quality diagnostics in low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs) – and particularly African countries.

Today, diagnostics can drive 70 percent of all clinical decision-making, yet they are apportioned less than 5.0 percent of hospital budgets.

The Lancet Commission on Diagnostics indicates that the median availability of diagnostics is at about 19 percent in basic primary care facilities surveyed in low-income and lower-middle-income countries.

Diagnostic laboratory services are essential to the delivery of quality healthcare but have historically been a neglected component of health systems in LMICs.

Grossly limited access to timely, good-quality diagnostics remains the weakest link in the healthcare cascade. Diagnosis informs treatment and care decisions right at the beginning of any patient’s healthcare journey.

Consequently, prioritising diagnostics across Africa can empower individuals, improve health outcomes and ultimately drive economic growth – because healthier populations are more economically active.

It is pivotal that the WHA has formally recognised and elevated the important place of diagnostics for the first time.

This is a call to action that goes beyond the efforts of any single government or organisation.

It requires a concerted and coordinated effort from all stakeholders to address the systemic barriers that hinder access to quality diagnostics.

This WHA resolution opens the door for policy changes, new partnerships and resource mobilisation to drive tangible progress towards building resilient healthcare systems in Africa and beyond.

Such progress is key to securing global health security.

The WHA has signalled that governments should recognise diagnostics' vital role and prioritise their inclusion in the national health agenda.

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