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New UN-backed rapid test could transform tuberculosis care and control

New UN-backed rapid test could transform tuberculosis care and control

New rapid DNA tuberculosis test being used in a lab in Uganda
The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today endorsed a new rapid test for tuberculosis, which it says could revolutionize the way the disease is tackled by providing an accurate diagnosis in about 100 minutes, compared to current tests that can take up to three months.

“This new test represents a major milestone for global TB diagnosis and care. It also represents new hope for the millions of people who are at the highest risk of TB and drug-resistant disease,” said Mario Raviglione, Director of WHO's Stop TB Department.

The agency noted that many countries still rely mainly on sputum smear microscopy, a diagnostic method that was developed over a century ago.

The new test – known as NAAT (nucleic acid amplification test) – incorporates modern DNA technology that can be used outside of conventional laboratories. It is also fully automated and therefore easy and safe to use.

The test could lead to a three-fold increase in the diagnosis of patients with drug-resistant TB and a doubling in the number of HIV-associated TB cases diagnosed in areas with high rates of TB and HIV, according to WHO.

The agency endorsed the new test following 18 months of rigorous assessment of its field effectiveness in the early diagnosis of TB, as well as multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) and TB complicated by HIV infection, which are more difficult to diagnose.

Tuberculosis killed an estimated 1.7 million people in 2009 and 9.4 million people developed active TB last year, said WHO, which is now calling for the new test, to be rolled out under clearly defined conditions and as part of national plans for TB and MDR-TB care and control.

It is also releasing recommendations and guidance for countries to incorporate this test in their programmes.