Boost production of medical diagnostic tools, MSF urges


An international humanitarian medical nongovernment group urged to ramp up investments for the medical diagnostics market in Asia amid the pandemic to improve health care, especially for low- and middle-income countries.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or commonly known as Doctors Without Borders, said in a recent webinar that the current health crisis has prompted the urgency in boosting the production of medical diagnostic tools.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly shown that when supply is scarce, low- and middle-income countries are at the end of the queue. More investments and actions are needed to scale up local research and development, and production capacity of quality diagnostics in low- and middle-income countries,” MSF Access Campaign Diagnostics Advisor Stijn Deborggraeve explained.

In the webinar, experts pointed out that most countries depend only on a few global manufacturers for diagnostic tools and tests, stressing the need to diversify the market’s supply chains and localizing them for efficient production.

Berlin Tran, researcher at the University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City, said that health care can be “inclusive” with having local scientists and manufacturers of medical diagnostics tools.

However, Tran said, the producers might find it financially challenging to support their research and development as well as commercialization.

“A little assistance, such as seed funding or consultation in clinical trial and production, would go a long way. With assistance, these Davids can help beat any pandemic Goliaths,” the researcher said.

Ricardo Jose Guerrero, Research Fellow at Ateneo Research Institute of Science and Engineering and engineering lead at Bayan Biomedical Research Group, said that locally developed diagnostics could bode well as they incorporate the “needs and problems of the community into their design.”

But he stressed there are many roadblocks to pursuing a local research and development for medical diagnostics.

“However, the local R&D [research and development] of diagnostics is challenging and encumbered by slow sourcing of materials, unclear regulatory guidance, and difficulty in achieving multi-sectoral alignment; challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has only made evident—not created,” he cited.

Guerrero stressed the need to establish an “enabling” environment for research and development in local diagnostics. It should support the “initial development and provide a clear pathway to the market and to widespread adoption by our health-care system,” he said.

In a recent issue brief, MSF recommended ways to improve local production of diagnostics in low- and middle-income countries, including an “enabling funding and procurement environment.”

The group said that the government, donors and development banks must infuse more capital backing the local research and development, manufacturing, capacity building and technology transfer.

In addition, regulators and policymakers should develop a “buy local” policy and offer volume guarantees to boost demand for the locally produced medical diagnostics, MSF said.

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