WHO Issues Its First List of Essential Diagnostic Tests

Megan Brooks

May 16, 2018

For the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published a list of essential tests needed to diagnose the most common conditions as well as a number of global priority diseases.

"An accurate diagnosis is the first step to getting effective treatment. No one should suffer or die because of a lack of diagnostic services, or because the right tests were not available," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, says in a news release.

The Essential Diagnostics List focuses on in vitro diagnostic tests and contains 113 tests. Fifty-eight are general laboratory tests used in routine patient care for diagnosis and monitoring of a wide array of common conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and anemia, "providing an essential package that can form the basis for screening and management of patients," WHO says.

The other 55 tests are for detection, diagnosis, and monitoring of global "priority" diseases including hepatitis B and C, HIV, human papillomavirus (HPV), malaria, syphilis, and tuberculosis.

For each category of test, the Essential Diagnostics List specifies the type of test and intended use, format, and if appropriate for use in primary care or in health facilities with laboratories. The list includes links to WHO guidelines or publications and, when available, to prequalified products.

"Our aim is to provide a tool that can be useful to all countries, to test and treat better, but also to use health funds more efficiently by concentrating on the truly essential tests," Mariângela Simão, WHO assistant director-general for Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals, notes in the release. "Our other goal is to signal to countries and developers that the tests in the list must be of good quality, safe and affordable."

The Essential Diagnostics List should serve as a reference for countries to update or develop their own list of essential diagnostics, WHO says. "In order to truly benefit patients, national governments will need to ensure appropriate and quality-assured supplies, training of health care workers and safe use. To that end, WHO will provide support to countries as they adapt the list to the local context," the agency says.

The list was developed following an extensive consultation within WHO and externally. The draft list was then reviewed by WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on In-Vitro Diagnostics.

Similar to the WHO Essential Medicines List, which has been updated every 2 years since 1977, WHO will update the Essential Diagnostics List on a regular basis.

This first edition of the Essential Diagnostics List will grow significantly over the next few years as it incorporates other important areas including antimicrobial resistance, emerging pathogens, neglected tropical diseases, and additional noncommunicable diseases, WHO says.

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