How close we are and how far we’ve come
Globalisation is an established part of the modern world.
Today, different ideas, cultures, services, and technologies are more accessible than ever. Similarly, increasingly dense populations are bringing people closer together — a projected 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050.1 While the free flow of goods, cultures and information has greatly improved quality of life for many,2 this deep-rooted connectivity presents a notable challenge.
Despite significant advances in medical science, infectious diseases are becoming increasingly difficult to manage.3 The current inability to contain the spread of disease is exacerbated by ease of travel and growing urbanisation. Further complicating the issue is the increased prevalence of misinformation (and worse, disinformation) which contributes to the bias and mistrust that stifles research and progress.4 All of these factors came to a head during the outbreak of COVID-19.
Caught off-guard and unprepared
The COVID-19 pandemic put the world on hold.
It started with reports of pneumonia cases in December 2019. The World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of the infections on December 31, 2019, and one month later they declared the novel coronavirus a global emergency. Delays in managing the pandemic have been cited as having a major impact on countries.5 The weeks and months that followed saw the infection spread around the world, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths and significant economic disruption. It pushed the limits of healthcare systems and served as a wake-up call for public health decision-makers.
The emergence of a new disease is always a puzzle, but learnings from previous outbreaks may help to guide future management strategies.
In each of these cases, confidently confirming or ruling out the source of
infection was the first step in managing the outbreak.
Increased testing is a critical pillar of pandemic management
Beyond identifying infected individuals and guiding medical treatment, testing can also reveal how an infection is spreading.
Transmission of COVID-19 from pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic persons placed increased importance on diagnostics to inform treatment, isolation or hospitalisation.9
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO issued a strategic preparedness and response plan. A key component of this plan was improving the scale at which countries can track, identify, and diagnose disease.10
In the bigger public health picture, testing can help investigators characterise the prevalence, spread and contagiousness of disease.11 By increasing the number of samples processed, more data points can be gathered and more robust insights can be generated.
At the beginning of the outbreak, WHO reference laboratories made PCR protocols public to accelerate the creation of laboratory developed tests (LDTs).10
Simultaneously, diagnostic manufacturers demonstrated their ability to accelerate commercial assay development.
The surge in available testing options marked a turning point in the world’s response as laboratories could now efficiently test at scale with high-throughput, fully automated molecular systems.
Laboratory automation is a fundamental part of preparedness
Managing an outbreak requires accurate results at scale.
Nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT) is trusted to deliver high sensitivity and specificity with each result. However, not all molecular tests are equal. Complex manual steps are subject to human error and may limit the ability of laboratories to meet surges in demand. In light of the current shortage of skilled laboratory workers and industry-wide consolidation efforts, elevating efficiency is essential—eliminating time-consuming manual processes, reducing the opportunity for error, lowering cost, and allowing for more predictable result delivery.12-14
Today, the increased availability of high-throughput fully automated molecular systems and well-designed, easy-to-use assays makes molecular testing more accessible. Additionally, gains in throughput and automation on these systems can also be applied to LDTs for increased flexibility in times of crisis.
Doing your part alongside a trusted partner
When selecting a partner, it is important to consider the capabilities of their infrastructure.
Working on systems with a large install base ensures that timely assay development is a key priority. A well-designed platform allows for the processing of multiple types of tests simultaneously, rapidly accommodates new assays, and facilitates the development of LDTs at scale. Laboratories that share a platform can also more easily collaborate to exchange testing strategies and protocols. Additionally, a top provider will continuously support and enhance existing solutions while developing new innovations in parallel.
Beyond just the technology, partnerships can play a significant role in the laboratory’s ability to support the growing burden of infectious disease. Some diagnostic providers employ a surveillance response team to monitor emerging infections.
In the wake of COVID-19 and the growing infectious disease landscape, there is renewed focus on preventative strategies. An early accurate diagnosis has the potential to decrease lengths of stay, optimise treatment selection and drive antimicrobial stewardship efforts.15
Laboratories play a critical role in the world’s ability to manage and respond to disease. High-throughput, fully automated molecular testing systems can help future-focused laboratories elevate the value they provide, secure their long-term sustainability, and contribute to a safer world for us all.
Elevate automation as part of your preparation for the next pandemic
At the onset of a future outbreak, the time to prepare will have passed. Fully automated high-throughput molecular testing systems eliminate time-consuming manual processes, minimise hands-on time, reduce error, allow for more predictable turnaround times, and free-up staff to perform higher-value tasks.
Mitigating tomorrow’s challenges means making preparedness a priority today.
Four healthcare trends that will impact your laboratory
Reframe what is possible
How will the role of the laboratory change in the next few years? With widespread industry changes already underway, learn how labs can overcome the considerable challenges and embrace the exciting opportunities.
United Nations. https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html. Accessed April 20, 2020.
International Monetary Fund. Surmounting the Challenges of Globalization. https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2002/03/aninat.htm. Accessed April 20, 2020
World Health Organization. Managing Epidemics: Key facts about major deadly diseases. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/managing-epidemics-interactive.pdf. Accessed April 20, 2020.
- Scheufele DA, Krause NM. Science audiences, misinformation, and fake news. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019;116(16):7662‐7669.
- Harvard Business Review. Lessons from Italy’s Response to Coronavirus. https://hbr.org/2020/03/lessons-from-italys-response-to-coronavirus. Accessed April 20, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations for Hospitalized Patients with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/infection-prevention-control.html. Accessed April 20, 2020.
World Health Organization. Global Influenza Strategy 2019-2030. https://www.who.int/influenza/Global_Influenza_Strategy_2019_2030_Summary_English.pdf?ua=1. Accessed April 20, 2020.
Zulfiqar HF, Javed A, Sumbal, et al. HIV Diagnosis and Treatment through Advanced Technologies. Front Public Health. 2017;5:32.
World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Situation report 73. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200402-sitrep-73-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=5ae25bc7_2. Accessed April 20, 2020.
World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) technical guidance: Laboratory testing for 2019-nCoV in humans. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/laboratory-guidance. Accessed April 20, 2020.
American Heart Association. COVID-19 science: Why testing is so important. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2020/04/02/covid-19-science-why-testing-is-so-important. Accessed April 20, 2020.
Melanson SE, Lindeman NI, Jarolim P. Selecting automation for the clinical chemistry laboratory. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2007;131(7):1063-1069.
Streitberg GS, Angel L, Sikaris KA, et al. Automation in clinical biochemistry: core, peripheral, STAT, and specialist laboratories in Australia. J Lab Autom. 2012;17(5):387-394.
Zaniotto M, Plebani M. The ‘hospital central laboratory’: automation, integration and clinical usefulness. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2010;48(7):911-917.
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