A Roadmap Towards a Digital Diagnostic Ecosystem for Africa

The African continent has the greatest health burden from infectious diseases, but also the greatest gap between diagnostic need and diagnostic provision. Accurate diagnostics are essential for reducing the burden of infectious diseases, by ensuring the correct treatment of individuals and by providing vital information on the epidemiology of infectious diseases for prevention and control. Recent advances in digital diagnostics, which often combine molecular accuracy with point-of-care format and mobile connectivity, create an opportunity for a radical transformation of the diagnostic ecosystem in Africa. Rather than emulating the traditional diagnostic laboratory systems in the Global North, African countries have the potential to pioneer new models of healthcare designed around digital diagnostics. In this White Paper, we will set out a vision for the transformative potential of digital diagnostics for Africa and describe a roadmap for their development and implementation.

We believe that in the future, cheap, highly accurate, point-of-care digital diagnostics will replace many of the functions of the conventional diagnostic laboratory. They will allow patients to rapidly receive diagnosis and appropriate treatment or referral. They will allow healthcare delivery closer to the patient and reduce inequalities in healthcare for groups living far from conventional medical facilities. They will allow diagnostic data to be shared with patients and with public health authorities, and to provide a source of real-time infectious disease surveillance which can be used to plan intervention strategies. Modular design of digital diagnostics will provide flexible expansion of the range of pathogens and diseases which can be detected, facilitating integration with evolving healthcare priorities, strategies, and systems. We believe that digital diagnostics have the potential to go well beyond filling the “diagnostic gap”. Similar to the way that mobile phone technology has leap-frogged over the need to put in place conventional landline infrastructure in much of Africa, developing a digital diagnostic ecosystem is an attractive alternative to expanding conventional diagnostic laboratory infrastructure. Digital diagnostics will allow African countries to simultaneously improve the outcomes of common medical problems like childhood febrile illness, whilst also facilitating public health efforts against the high burden infectious disease problems like malaria, tuberculosis and antimicrobial resistance.