A LESSON FROM COVID-19: We need innovative diagnostic systems for developing countries

The COVID-19 pandemic is re-opening the conversation about unequal access to health services and the importance of rapid-portable diagnostic methods. Especially in a pandemic, where the priority is to slow down the spread of disease, massive tests are needed to identify (in a short time) positive cases and make informed public health decisions to prevent the spread.

In developing countries, where the income is middle-low and the population is large, testing capacity is limited. The lack of proper healthcare structures, with specialized equipment, prevents the performance of advanced testing protocols, such as the widely used method for virus identification, polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Usually, these tests take a few hours, and specialized staff, to deliver results. However, the logistics involved in taking and shipping biological samples can get complex when patients are located in remote communities far from the equipped hospitals.

Right now, as a consequence of the public health emergency, the number of diagnostics tests for COVID-19 greatly increased and the capacity of rapid response is compromised. Therefore, innovative solutions are needed to perform several fast and reliable tests, where the patient is located, easy to handle in healthcare facilities without specialized equipment.

Diagnostic of COVID-19 in a technological era

One of the promising projects in diagnosing COVID-19 is the European collaborative project CoNVat, led by Prof. Laura Lechuga and her team at the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2). They have been working to develop a fast, and portable sensing platform based on light and nano biosensors.

In this platform, biological receptors will “trap” proteins situated in the shell of the virus, and as a consequence, the light passing through this sensor will change. After measuring this interaction, the device will be able to tell if the patient has the virus or not. This is expected to be a highly sensitive device, with the potential to revolutionize the accessibility to fast diagnosis and point of care (bedside testing) technologies.

The COVID-19 health emergency is showing us the urgency to strengthen the capacity of response to the needs of all the population in an emergency, the inequity in the distribution of health services, and the lack of recognition (and funding) in science and technology research.

We are living in a technology shaped time where we are globally connected and maybe it’s time to use this advantage for good. We urgently need to involve advanced technologies in how health systems deliver well-being. Point of care as instantaneous diagnostic devices, machine learning to improve diagnostic, tele-assistance to connect healthcare personal and patients, are some of the resources that will be meaningful in the efforts towards a transformative model of health care accessible for all.

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This blog was written by One Young World Ambassador, Karen A. Ordaz Martinez.

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