WHO Identifies “Essential” Lab Tests

The World Health Organization (WHO) published a new list of 113 diagnostic tests that it considers “essential” to every health-care system. Called the Essential Diagnostics List, this list represents the first time that the agency has labeled diagnostic services essential, with the intention of ensuring that all people have access to these tests.

“An accurate diagnosis is the first step to getting effective treatment,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MD, noted. “No one should suffer or die because of a lack of diagnostic services, or because the right tests were not available.”

The Essential Diagnostics List includes tests needed to diagnose common conditions worldwide, as well as many “global priority diseases” like HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus, and syphilis. Most tests on the list are in vitro (e.g., using blood and urine samples) and can be administered in limited-resource areas.

The list of diagnostic tests is similar to the WHO’s Essential Medicines List, which was first published in 1977, the agency explained in a press release announcing the list’s publication. “The Essential Diagnostics List is intended to serve as a reference for countries to update or develop their own list of essential diagnostics,” according to the WHO. “To truly benefit patients, national governments will need to ensure appropriate and quality-assured supplies, training of health-care workers, and safe use.”

The WHO will update the Essential Diagnostics List regularly and pledged support to countries as they adapt the list to the local context.

Sources: World Health Organization press release, May 15, 2018; The New York Times, May 21, 2018.