Health and Healthcare Systems

Asia Pacific’s healthcare revolution starts with the WHO resolution on diagnostics

Diagnostics influence up to 70% of clinical decisions yet account for less than 1% of healthcare expenditure.

Diagnostics influence up to 70% of clinical decisions yet account for less than 1% of healthcare expenditure. Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA - Tags: HEALTH POLITICS)

Lance Little
Head of Region, Asia Pacific, Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific
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This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

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  • The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored how prioritizing and investing in diagnostics facilitates prompt detection and effective management of disease outbreaks.
  • A WHO resolution reflects a fresh global call to action to strengthen diagnostics and increase patient access for better health outcomes.
  • Correcting the patient engagement deficit in Asia Pacific is critical to realizing the benefits of all healthcare resources.

Each May, representatives from the 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) gather during the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva to endorse resolutions and set big-picture goals for the organization, its leaders and its stakeholders.

This year, Eswatini – one of the smallest countries in Africa – tabled a resolution that included calls for member states to strengthen diagnostics capacity through the establishment of a national diagnostics strategy, developing a national essential diagnostics list and investing in developing a skilled workforce at all levels of the health system.

Diagnostics influence up to 70% of clinical decisions yet account for less than 1% of healthcare expenditures. With 47% of the global population having little to no access to diagnostics, this resolution is an urgent call to action.

Access to timely and accurate diagnosis is an urgent priority for countries to achieve Global Public Health Security. Countries investing in diagnostics capabilities were better able to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and as reported by the Lancet, real change was seen at a pace that would previously have seemed impossible.

However, for those who had to build infrastructure and redirect resources, the problems in building diagnostic capabilities were compounded by supply chain hurdles and slow regulatory approvals, a sobering reality for low-and-middle-income countries, including Asia Pacific. Moreover, many of these countries still needed to increase funding for diagnostic technologies to match general inflation, representing a real terms reduction in resource allocation over recent decades.

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Fast-tracking a new era for diagnostics

Past WHA resolutions had yielded success, as seen when 194 countries passed a resolution supporting the global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem. Many countries in the Asia Pacific are leading the charge on this.

Australia, a global front-runner in cervical cancer elimination, has a robust vaccination and screening strategy. A study suggests maintaining these at their current rates could likely eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue in the country by 2035.

There is an urgent need to strengthen the role of diagnostics. Increased access to diagnostics could prevent 1.1 million premature deaths annually, according to the Lancet Commission on diagnostics study conducted in 2021. The world needs access to diagnostic tools, appropriate infrastructure and skilled personnel. Better access to diagnostics is also key to the success of universal health coverage, the evidence for which can be seen in India and Indonesia’s efforts to eliminate financial hardship in accessing primary health care.

Realizing the promise of proactive and preventative care hinges on a dual policy approach that can ensure diagnostics access and infrastructure that can support the capacity and capability to provide equitable and effective services for the long term. This resolution is the chance to do so but this won’t happen without greater visibility, advocacy and funding.

That is why now is the time for change.

By taking bold action, health systems can strengthen their ability to fund long-term strategies, including implementing universal health coverage, which is well underway in many countries across Asia Pacific and being reviewed in many advanced countries with publicly funded health systems.

Lance Little, Head of Region, Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific, quoted on the WHO resolution on diagnostics.
Lance Little, Head of Region, Roche Diagnostics Asia Pacific, quoted on the WHO resolution on diagnostics. Image: Roche Diagnostics

Change must be powered from the ground up

What’s different in the changes permeating the world around us is the power individuals hold. The patient is an essential piece of the healthcare puzzle. Correcting the patient engagement deficit in Asia Pacific is critical to realizing the benefits of all healthcare resources. Where diagnostics is the first port of call for a person’s interaction with their local health system, they should be encouraged by the clinical teams to understand their condition and work alongside the healthcare professionals collaboratively.

Not having this interaction can inhibit proactive health-seeking actions and behaviours, which, in turn, can result in increased healthcare costs. For instance, people may end up in hospital with advanced-stage cancer that could have been treated more effectively if diagnosed earlier.

Cultural, social and economic barriers such as beliefs about the sources of illness, phobia, illiteracy or lack of understanding about the value of diagnostics all impede patient engagement. Yet, patient engagement complements the very resolution that WHO has tabled.

What is needed now is to develop direction and policies to broaden patient access to diagnostics technologies ensuring people live longer, healthier lives. All stakeholders must work together to bring the voice of patients to the decision-making table to reshape the healthcare landscape. We now have the potential to shift from a volume-based, “one size fits all” approach to putting the needs of people and communities at the heart of care leading to truly personalized care.

As our health systems evolve, healthcare decisions around a patient’s needs and desired outcomes are the way forward. Where you live should not be the key determining factor in a person’s health. The WHO resolution is a global call to action like never before. We have a unique opportunity now to improve patient outcomes and drive progress towards global health equity and global health security for patients everywhere.

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