Sexual and reproductive health

“The way forward”: Quick, accurate tests to diagnose sexually transmitted infections

Greater investment needed worldwide in point-of-care tests

Image of the supplement front cover

12 December 2017: A special supplement to the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections highlights the urgent importance of investing in the research, development and scaling up of the use of point-of-care tests.

Each year, there are an estimated 357 million new infections with 1 of the following 4 curable STIs: chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis. An estimated 290 million women are infected with human papillomavirus – an STI which can cause cervical cancer. Herpes simplex virus and syphilis can increase the risk of HIV acquisition. STIs can have health consequences beyond the immediate impact of the infection itself, and can have a serious negative impact on overall quality of life.

Entitled, “Advancing point-of-care diagnostics for the control and prevention of sexually transmitted infections”, the special supplement was developed by authors at WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research and HRP along with several partner organizations.

Point-of-care tests

Point-of-care tests allow people to be screened, tested, diagnosed and treated for STIs in a single visit to a health worker, and can help to dramatically reduce the burden of disease.

STIs consultation in a health center, Papua New Guinea
STIs consultation, Papua New Guinea
WHO/Yoshi Shimizu

“The way forward”

“Point-of-care tests are the way forward. They help countries reduce the cost of testing and diagnosis, improve well-being and save lives".

Igor Toskin, Scientist at WHO and a lead author of several papers in the supplement

These innovative tests have a number of important benefits. They can be used in diverse settings by professional and lay health workers alike – and sometimes, even allow people to test themselves. Since they allow people to be tested, diagnosed and treated for STIs in a single visit, they can also help to reduce the burden on health workers and systems and can therefore also reduce expensive laboratory costs. Subsequently, and crucially, the testing, diagnosis and treatment of STIs becomes easier for people to access. These benefits help to ensure earlier diagnoses of STIs. With a timely diagnosis, people can receive the right counselling, treatment and care. They are also less likely to pass the infection onto their sexual partner or partners, helping to stop the further spread of STIs – thereby also preventing the related negative consequences for health and well-being.

Call for new guidelines

To ensure that the introduction of point-of-care tests into primary care is effective – particularly in low- and middle-income countries – the authors of the supplement call for evidence-based guidelines to be developed. These guidelines are needed to help inform health workers on how best to use point-of-care tests, as well as how to manage infections and improve data on STIs. The guidelines are needed also to help health system managers and programmers to simply know which tests to use as well as how and where to procure them.

Greater investment needed

Taking into account the potential benefits of wide scale-up of point-of-care tests, the authors call for greater investment in the research and further implementation of such tests worldwide. The WHO Global Health Sector Strategy for the control and prevention of STIs highlights point-of-care tests as a key part of health planning and programming in addressing STIs. The authors of the supplement note, “This approach could serve many of the goals in the global strategy". link text

The supplement as a whole highlights how point-of-care tests can be powerful tools to increase access to sexual health services, and help to enable more efficient STI surveillance and address anti-microbial resistance.