The WHO has endorsed a new tuberculosis (TB) test, saying it is a "major milestone" and calling for it to be rolled out across affected countries as part of its national TB plans.
The new test, which detects more than 90 per cent of TB cases, including drug-resistant TB and TB in HIV patients, cuts diagnosis time from up to two months to 100 minutes.
It is now being rolled out in India and South Africa, with plans to start using it soon in Ethiopia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Uganda.
"This new test represents a major milestone for global TB diagnosis and care," said Mario Raviglione, director of WHO's Stop TB Partnership, in a statement this week (8 December).
"We have the scientific evidence, we have defined the policy, and now we aim to support implementation for impact in countries."
Rajiv Shah, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, said in a statement: "USAID stands ready to support the roll-out of this new technology, including the advancement of sound international policy, training and impact monitoring".
The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), a Geneva-based non-profit organisation, has negotiated with the manufacturer, Cepheid, a 75 per cent discount for the equipment for developing countries.
This reduction was dependent on the WHO endorsing it for wide-scale use. Now the price of the device will be US$17,000 for the 116 low- to middle-income countries that have a high TB burden. The price of a single test will be US$16.86.
"As the uptake and production volume go up, the price will come further down," Lakshmi Sundaram, FIND's advocacy officer, told SciDev.Net.
"WHO and FIND forecast that, within a year, the price of a test will go down to US$14 and, within three years, to US$10."
But she warned that, as the test is taken up, there will be a sudden increase in the number of diagnosed cases. Close collaboration with the drug community is needed through national TB programmes to ensure all diagnosed people have access to treatment, she said.
The WHO is planning a stakeholders meeting in November 2011 to assess evidence about the test's efficacy and reliability in real-life settings.
See below for a video of how the test works: