Scientists Report Advances in Diagnosing TB, Malaria, Sleeping Sickness
By Lisa Schlein
10 June 2008

Scientists say progress is being made in developing faster, more affordable methods of detecting poverty-related diseases. A leading Swiss non-profit group, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, says it has made significant advances in creating better diagnostic tools for Tuberculosis, Sleeping Sickness and Malaria. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.
Millions of sick people in the developing world are unable to get the treatment they need because the illnesses they suffer from are not properly diagnosed and identified.
The Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics has been working for the past five years on developing new tools to improve the quality of diagnosis to better fight poverty-related diseases. Its focus has been on three neglected diseases -Tuberculosis, Sleeping Sickness and Malaria.
Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics chief officer Dr. Giorgio Roscigno, tells VOA the organization has several exciting new technologies in development and the World Health Organization has approved a few of them.
"We have now another major technology that is in the process of being approved by the World Health Organization, which is the detection of resistant strains in TB within one day, in contrast with the current four or five months that it takes to detect resistant strains," said Dr. Roscigno. "That could be a real, very important breakthrough and this should be, in fact, approved in the next one month. And, in Sleeping Sickness and in Malaria, we also are moving very fast toward the development of new diagnostic tools."
The World Health Organization considers tuberculosis to be one of the greatest threats to global health, with nearly nine million new cases and more than 1.1 million deaths each year.
More than 60 million people, most of whom live in rural sub-Saharan Africa, are at risk of Sleeping Sickness and Malaria causes more than 300 million cases. Most of the one million yearly deaths occur in young children in Africa.
Volunteers from German aid organization Johanniter unpack medical aid in Rangoon, Burma, 13 May 2008
Dr. Roscigno says too many people in poor countries suffer needlessly and die from preventable and treatable diseases because effective and appropriate diagnostic tools are not available.
He says the Foundation's new simple and affordable test for diagnosing TB will also detect whether patients are resistant to the antibiotics used for treating tuberculosis. He says its approval will be valuable for countries with limited resources
"The implications of this is quite very important in countries, because the fact that you are building resistance is an indicator of how good your program is," said Dr. Roscigno. "And on the other hand, preventing immediately or putting up corrective measures as soon as you start building resistance is a very important public health measure."
Dr. Roscigno says the development of simpler, more reliable and more cost-effective methods of diagnosing diseases in developing countries will save millions of lives and help people in these nations move out of poverty.
The organization has 44 trial sites around the world, the majority in Africa and Asia. Its research is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.