WHO joins partners at ASEAN regional meeting to boost access to quality diagnostic testing

The Regional Consultative Meeting on National Essential Diagnostic Lists (NEDLs) for ASEAN Member States was held in Thailand on 6–7 June 2024, organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), and supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Diagnostic testing is a key component of ensuring the health of patients around the world. In fact, diagnostics are used every day in all healthcare services and not just during pandemics.

Diagnostic services play a vital role in preventing, diagnosing, managing, monitoring and treating a wide range of diseases, injuries and disabilities, including communicable, noncommunicable, neglected tropical and rare diseases. They are crucial for achieving universal health coverage (UHC), including primary health care, and implementing the International Health Regulations (IHR), as well as providing access to high-quality and equitable services across the care continuum.

Diagnostic services empower the health workforce in the identification of diseases and health conditions, which allows the initiation of treatments to avoid further complications and costly treatments for patients.

Over 40 000 products are available today for in vitro diagnostic testing, ranging from traditional laboratory-based tests to point-of-care tests which are vital in resource-constrained settings.

Despite this, too many countries still lack access to quality diagnostics and as a result individuals continue to suffer from treatable diseases and conditions such as cholera, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

In vitro diagnostics are also vital in diagnosing a range of cancers and as such are an important tool in addressing non-communicable diseases. Ensuring the availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of diagnostics is therefore key to achieving UHC.

Delegates at the meeting discussed the impact of national essential diagnostic lists on UHC and health systems. Several ASEAN Member States shared their experiences of developing and implementing national essential diagnostics lists.

Delegates also heard updates on the progress on national strategies to address gaps on diagnostics including a presentation of a gap analysis in four ASEAN Member States and Timor-Leste, undertaken by WHO and ERIA, comparing the availability of diagnostic testing systems against the WHO Model List of Essential In Vitro Diagnostics (EDL).

The WHO EDL sets out a list of recommended in vitro diagnostics (IVDs) that should be available in every country and informs the prioritization of IVDs at various levels of the healthcare system. This work underscored the critical gaps and highlighted necessary actions and policy implications to improve diagnostic infrastructure in ASEAN countries. The next phases of the project will be to conduct a gap analysis in other ASEAN countries and to support interested ASEAN countries in developing and then implementing their national EDL.

In partnership with ERIA, WHO works to support efforts to ensure the availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of diagnostics as a cornerstone of achieving universal health coverage and boosting health outcomes in the ASEAN region.

This important collaboration focuses on the implementation of the recommendations of the Lancet Commission on transforming access to diagnostics (2021) and the implementation of the World Health Assembly resolution on strengthening diagnostic capacity, as adopted by WHO Member States in May 2023.

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