Lack of access to diagnostics a global health challenge: Healthcare leaders in Singapore and the region engage in inaugural dialogue on Lancet Commission’s recommendations to accelerate diagnostics and applications in AsiaThe dialogue focused on three key areas in diagnostics -
Singapore, 16 February 2022 – Close to 300 healthcare leaders and diagnostics specialists in Singapore and the region, as well as leaders from The Lancet Commission and the World Health Organization, gathered for an inaugural dialogue themed, "A Regional Outlook on the Global Crisis in Diagnostics", today. The meeting discussed the findings from the Lancet Commission on Diagnostics – Transforming Access to Diagnostics1, which was published late last year. Guest-of-Honour Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health Singapore, opened the event with a speech.
The event was spearheaded by the SingHealth Duke-NUS Global Health Institute, in partnership with the Academy of Medicine Singapore and the Lancet Commission, and with participation from organisations such as the Academy of Medicine Malaysia, the Hong Kong Academy of Medicine and the World Health Organization.
The Impact of Diagnostics on Global Health Outcomes
The Lancet Commission’s report on Diagnostics noted that while diagnostics capabilities such as radiology, pathology and laboratory medicine are fundamental to a high quality healthcare system, nearly half the world’s population (47 per cent) have little to no access to diagnostic services. The Commission also traced common conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, HIV and tuberculosis in the global population, and found that diagnostics formed the single largest gap in the care pathway, where 35 to 62 per cent of the population with these conditions remain undiagnosed.
The lack of access to diagnostics results in a delayed detection of treatable diseases, and subsequently, poorer health outcomes and increased healthcare costs. This in turn, impacts the overall state of health in each country and the region, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has put the spotlight on the need for pandemic preparedness both now and in the future. The Commission thus advocated an urgent need to accelerate and transform diagnostics capabilities, and urged healthcare systems around the world to prioritise sustained access to quality and affordable diagnostics.
Dr Kenneth Fleming from the University of Oxford, UK and Chair of the Lancet Commission on Diagnostics said, "The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored how crucial diagnostics is and has put testing at the forefront of the global health agenda. In contrast, globally, diagnostics as a field is underfunded and underappreciated, with patients in much of the world being treated for diseases without access to the necessary diagnostic tests and services. It is essential that we work together to close this gap and prioritise diagnostics for all diseases."
Transforming Access to and Building Capabilities in Diagnostics
This inaugural dialogue provided the platform for healthcare leaders and diagnostics specialists across Asia to gather and discuss the Commission’s recommendations from the perspectives of radiology, pathology and laboratory medicine, and the possible applications for the region. They focused on three areas – health workforce expansion and upskilling for contemporary diagnostic skills; governance and regulatory frameworks to support and oversee diagnostic quality and safety; and fostering development and appropriate use of technology to benefit everyone.
Professor Fong Kok Yong, Deputy Group CEO (Medical & Clinical Services), SingHealth, said, "Diagnostics is closely interlinked with almost every medical specialty and plays a defining role in every patient’s journey. As seen from the COVID-19 pandemic, diagnostics is a critical pillar to a country or healthcare system’s pandemic response. There is much value in the exchange of insights and perspectives through today’s dialogue that will enable us to work towards developing sustainable diagnostic solutions to achieve our shared vision of enhancing care for patients and our populations."
Associate Professor Chow Wan Cheng, Vice Dean, Office of Academic & Clinical Development, Duke-NUS Medical School, emphasised the need to consider the unique challenges in Asia where almost 60 per cent of the population of the world resides, as part of the regional response to capacity building for improved access to diagnostics. "Asia has the highest rates of disease in the world across a range of conditions, and factors such as greater population density, environmental change, patterns of human-animal interaction and increasing mobility also make Asia vulnerable to emerging infectious diseases. We know that early detection can make the difference between life and death. Diagnostics is integral to managing all aspects of population health and strengthening health systems preparedness," she said.
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The SingHealth Duke-NUS Global Health Institute (SDGHI) aims to advance health and well-being in Asia and beyond. Working in collaboration with partners, the Institute seeks to strengthen health systems, improve health outcomes and increase health security. Launched in 2018, SDGHI harnesses the capacity of SingHealth, the largest group of health care institutions in Singapore, and the Duke-NUS Medical School, to advance interdisciplinary global health research and capacity development across the region.