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Little has been done to create diagnostic tests that are cheap and suitable for resource-poor settings. Yet millions of people in developing countries die each year from diseases like HIV/ AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria because of flawed or late diagnosis.

Diagnostic tests do not only identify diseases, they are also crucial in choosing an effective cure, monitoring treatment and determining drug resistance.

This article in Nature describes research by the Global Health Diagnostics Forum, which assesses the need for and potential impact of such diagnostic tests, and calls on scientists, health organisations and policymakers to work together to take it forward.

The forum — a team of health and technology experts and diagnostics professionals convened by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the RAND Corporation — concentrated on six disease groups with the highest health tolls in the developing world.

For each, they identified at what point along the disease progression path a diagnostic test could be most effective, and what characteristics such a test would need.

They show how improving diagnostics could save hundreds of thousands of lives each year — providing health organisations and governments coordinate their work.

Reference: Nature 444, 681 (2006)

Link to full article/paper in Nature