Abiba is a 28-year old woman living in a sub-Saharan African country. One morning, she started experiencing abdominal pains. She went to her local GP thinking that she might just have a stomach bug, but when he referred her to a specialist, she received the Earth-shattering news that her condition was far more serious.
Abiba had advanced cervical cancer. The only way it could be treated was chemotherapy. The most tragic part of her situation is that, had she been for regular screenings for HPV (human papillomavirus), the cancer may have been prevented. At the early stages, any precancers may have been identified and treated, or HPV (one of the leading causes of cervical cancer) could have been prevented entirely with an HPV vaccine.
Cervical cancer is steadily on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa, and all but one of the top 20 countries worldwide with the highest burden of cervical cancer in 2018 were in Africa, even though it is entirely curable if diagnosed and treated early. Sadly, poor access to prevention, screening and treatment contributes to 90% of deaths.
Abiba’s hypothetical tale is just one possible scenario in which diagnostics could have changed a life. From infectious diseases to everyday health threats or cancer, diagnostics lie at the core of any prognosis. The more advanced and reliable diagnostic solutions are, the earlier clinicians can make accurate decisions with confidence, leading to better decision-making and treatment. But in sub-Saharan Africa, access to diagnostics remains one of the biggest challenges faced in healthcare today.
The front line
Healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa is a complex challenge. Recent data shows that additional resources are much-needed to assist in treatment for the population at large, but governments, healthcare professionals and the public frequently don’t have adequate understanding that diagnosis is an essential step in preventing and treating disease.
The first line of defence in quality diagnostics is the patient’s own self-awareness. Understanding their bodies and knowing when to approach a healthcare professional empowers them to make potentially lifesaving decisions.
Community education is our most vital tool. People with an understanding of their bodies are more likely to seek care when they need it. Further to education, now, more than ever, with economies under strain and healthcare under a microscope because of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare companies, service providers and governments should be finding new ways to collaborate, to ensure that patients receive the right care at the right time.
Funding, both from governments and from the private sector, should also increase focus on ensuring that healthcare workers have adequate training, equipment and access wherever it is needed. Public–private partnerships can be sustainable and effective.
Several have been in place since the late 1990s and companies like Roche Diagnostics already work very closely with local health departments throughout Africa. The relationships have already been created. Now, all that remains is to assess where the gaps to access are and, following that, to streamline our focus areas to educate, diagnose and treat the population for various communicable and non-communicable conditions.
A study in simplicity
Just the tiniest blood sample contains an astonishing amount of valuable information. It could be all that is needed for some patients to understand any given condition – be it HPV, HIV or even COVID-19 – especially where lifestyle changes are enough to keep them out of hospital and leading a fulfilling, productive life.
We live in a world that is diverse and rich with a mix of culture and belief systems. But one thing is true of every human being; we all dream of a bright future and good health. Diagnostics play a big role in making this possible.
The decade of diagnostics
The COVID-19 pandemic raised unprecedented awareness around of the role diagnostics and the part they play in disease prevention and management. In fact, awareness grew so much that 2020 became a launch point for what is being referred to “the decade of diagnostics”. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that, “Diagnostic testing has become indispensable for diagnosing and monitoring disease, for providing prognoses and for predicting treatment response”.
Prompt and accurate diagnosis ensures the best possible care, in time to potentially prevent or slow disease progression and save lives.
Your health in your hands
Advanced diagnostics enable individuals take control of their own health. Patients who are confident and involved in decisions about their health are more likely to comply with treatment plans, leading to fewer hospitalisations and shorter hospital stays – particularly in patients with chronic health problems. Having more control over their own healthcare also improves a patient’s mental health.
As one of the biggest providers of real-world data, diagnostics has the potential to fight global health threats like COVID-19 more effectively. With a patient’s permission, data can be shared with all the healthcare providers involved in the patient journey. This also allows healthcare systems to quickly identify where and how to target prevention and containment measures.
Delayed diagnostics can have catastrophic consequences. The chance to provide optimal health can be lost forever if a diagnosis comes too late. Ensuring access to quality and advanced diagnostics is critical. This cannot be emphasised enough. And when people have greater access quality and prompt treatment, our shared vision of a brighter, healthier world is one step closer to becoming a reality.
By Dr Allan Pamba,
Africa Network Lead EMEA-LATAM (Roche Diagnostics)