10 December 2010
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India
Fully–Automated 100–Minute Test To Detect Strains Of The Disease
A diagnostic test that can accurately detect the most dangerous strains of tuberculosis that are multi–drug resistant (MDR TB) or the ones complicated with HIV co–infection, in only 1.4 hours has finally been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The 100–minute test is fully automatic with minimal hands–on technical time. The current tests can take up to three months to diagnose a single case.
Scientists say implementation of this test could result in a three–fold increase in diagnosis of patients with MDR TB, and a doubling in the number of HIV–associated TB cases. Interestingly, the announcement comes just days after ToI pointed out to how Xpert – the newage test – is of dire global need.
WHO’s endorsement of the rapid test, Xpert NAAT, (nucleic acid amplification test) follows 18 months of rigorous field assessment. "We’ve scientific evidence. We’ve defined the policy, and now we aim to support implementation for impact in countries," said Dr Mario Raviglione, director of WHOs’ Stop TB programme.
Many countries, like India, still rely principally on sputum smear microscopy, a diagnostic method that was developed over a century ago. WHO’s endorsement should now make it easier for India’s TB control programme to introduce it in earnest. Vivek Dharmraj from Global Health Advocates said, "We are very positive about the potential of Xpert. As it is highly portable and easy to use, the community can be easily trained to use this test."
ToI had reported how Christian Medical College, Vellore, was testing and evaluating Xpert, which not only detects the presence of TB, but also identifies whether it is resistant to rifampin, a critical first–line drug.