Technologies that are applicable to more than one disease can deliver diagnostic tools for neglected infectious diseases such as human African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) at little extra cost, say Joseph Mathu Ngung'u and colleagues.
Their Switzerland-based organisation, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), pinpoints diagnostic tools for commercially-attractive diseases and 'piggy-backs' neglected infectious diseases onto them.
For example, FIND has co-developed two technologies for diagnosing tuberculosis — a light-emitting diode-based fluorescence microscope and a loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) of DNA — that have been, or will be, evaluated for sleeping sickness in Africa.
Both technologies are simple to use in remote rural settings and promise to be more effective at diagnosing sleeping sickness in the field than the card agglutination test for trypanosomiasis (CATT) that is currently used.
In both cases, evaluating the technology for sleeping sickness represents a minimal additional cost to the project. And with a little more effort, LAMP tests for other neglected diseases including Buruli ulcer, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis, could be included on the same platform, say the authors.
Once diagnostic products have passed through development, evaluation and demonstration trials, FIND negotiates access strategies to make the tests affordable and works with a network of partners to integrate them into the public health sectors of target countries.
It is this aspect of their work — investing in strategies to make new diagnostic tools accessible — that remains the biggest challenge, say the authors.