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What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About the Importance of Testing

Globally, there have been over 250 million cases and 5 million deaths from COVID-19. Many organizations consider these underestimates. It is clear that this pathogen could have had a devastating effect on the global health and economies if certain mistakes were avoided, particularly in testing.
As we’ve seen with COVID-19 and in the past with Zika virus, Ebola, Zika virus, Zika and SARS, outbreaks need to be identified quickly in order to be contained. Covid testing near me is the first line of global surveillance for health. It gives warning signs of potential outbreaks so health officials can swiftly try to limit or stop their spread. Diagnostics are needed to detect pathogens with high potential for outbreak. No approved diagnostic test is available for 60 percent or more of the Blueprint pathogens, which have been identified by the World Health Organization as having the highest outbreak potential.

The likelihood of pandemics occurring in the future is high if there are not enough testing tools. This is especially true for low- and medium-income countries (LMICs), where infectious diseases are commonly underdiagnosed. The global health community needs to provide sufficient funding for diagnostics development and access to these tests in LMICs. Investments in diagnostics could have significant impact because they account for a very small portion of healthcare costs but are responsible for about 70% of healthcare decisions.

COVID-19 is a valuable resource that can help us to prevent future outbreaks of disease and further deaths.

The utility of reliable diagnostics goes beyond testing for the first signs of an outbreak. In less than 12 months, COVID-19 has enabled unprecedented vaccine development. Without the development of diagnostic tests that can assess vaccine effectiveness in protecting people in clinical trials or in real-world settings, this result wouldn’t have been possible. However, once vaccines started to be distributed, some countries stopped testing and put it on hold. They rely solely on vaccines to slow down the spread. It was a mistake.

The vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19, as well as vaccine coverage, is not 100%. Affordable, on-the spot testing can be used to keep people safe at work, home, school, and in the workplace. This can allow airlines to return to pre-pandemic levels of travel. Some countries have taken this approach to the next level, using extensive testing to establish a “zero COVID” strategy that aims to eradicate COVID-19 within their borders. Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and China are all now easing this policy. But China has maintained it and was able last year to stop the spread of the Delta variant. The importance of testing will continue to be an essential tool for providing safe environments at work and in other settings. This is especially true in light of the new variants of SARS/CoV-2 and new pathogens that are almost certain of circulating in the future.

Technology advancements would help to test for all these issues. Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (PCR), is currently the gold standard for COVID-19 testing. Tests that use nasal or throat swabs require skilled personnel, expensive machines and specific reagents. It can take days for results to be obtained due to backlogs at the testing facilities. The low coverage achieved by PCR testing can also be limited due to the high cost. These tests weren’t suitable for controlling COVID-19 spread, as was evident during the pandemic. In order to slow down transmission in real world settings, easier, faster, more-accessible and more-affordable testing were required.

Numerous companies have developed COVID-19 rapid-antigen tests to meet this need. They were available for deployment in just eight months after the initial outbreak, which is another world record. These tests can also include a nasal or throat swab, which will identify a protein in the coronavirus. However, they are much faster and less expensive than PCR test, which are usually about US $3 in LMICs. These tests are less accurate than PCR, but are still useful tools for stemming pandemics. While antigen testing was widely available in high-income nations, governments have adopted nationalistic policies and hoarded these tests for their own citizens. This policy only contributed to the pandemic from a global health perspective, especially in LMICs where the diagnostic capacity is already low.

A pandemic requires global access to effective testing technologies and strategies. Cooperation between nations is the only way. Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT Accelerator) was one of the most successful attempts to tackle the pandemic. It is a collaboration of governments, scientists, business, civil society, philanthropists as well global health organizations to support the development, production and equitable distribution COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. Despite not receiving the funding that the ACT Accelerator members hoped for, notable achievements have been made. They include halving the cost for rapid antigen testing, independently evaluating performance of commercially-available tests, and training over 42,000 healthcare workers in more than 200 countries to administer these tests. In November, the ACT consortium (which also includes FIND, a global alliance for diagnosis), announced a $50 million investment in support of scaling-up testing and treatment packages in LMICs. These countries lack sufficient diagnostic capacity and do not have lifesaving therapies.

At times, the international community has failed to make optimal use of diagnostics to deal with COVID-19. The pandemic’s duration has likely been extended by the politicization of testing and the overreliance upon vaccines. LMICs have also been adversely affected by test hoarding and an overall lack of diagnostic capability, even though pathogens don’t respect national borders, especially in interconnected countries. Even though cooperative efforts have addressed some testing gaps in the past, we need to learn from COVID-19’s lessons to manage future disease outbreaks better and prevent even more death.