The Global Frugal Diagnostics Network hosted its 2nd Virtual Meet and Greet on August 30th, 2023, bringing together members to highlight the work of network members and review major goals and objectives for the next stage of growing the network. Following a warm welcome and introduction by the network co-founder Dr. Elena Rosca, of Ashesi University, speakers Professor Kwabena Duedu of the University of Health and Allied Sciences and Professor Till Bachmann of the University of Edinburgh presented projects they lead in the frugal diagnostics space. The floor was then opened for a lively Q&A. Here, Shannon Branigin reports on the main themes and takeaways of the event.
In the 2nd Virtual Meet and Greet of the Global Frugal Diagnostics (GFDx) Network, co-founders Dr. Elena Rosca, Professor Maïwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas of Heriot-Watt University, and Mr. Harry Akligoh of Yemaachi Biotech, kicked off the session by reviewing the Network’s overarching goals: primarily, to enhance global access to research and development for global health diagnostics via the share and co-transfer of technological knowledge, innovations, and best practices, as well as the democratization of access to point-of-care (POC) diagnostics. In the process, the GFDx Network highlights the co-production of knowledge and emphasizes local contexts and end-users, working towards an innovation ecosystem that disrupts an historical trend of unilateral knowledge flows.
Following the Network’s introduction, the event’s first speaker was Professor Kwabena Duedu, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) in Ho, Ghana. Prof. Duedu spoke on “Community mobilization to leapfrog diagnostics and research capabilities during the Covid-19 pandemic,” outlining the journey of developing Covid-19 diagnostics in Ghana from Nigeria’s first case of Covid-19 in spring 2020. Initial research and team mobilization involved an assemblage of resources collected from ongoing projects, donations, and even personal finances, as well as, when testing began, corporate actors in Ghana. Critical team- and capacity-building included all UHAS faculty and staff available with backgrounds in clinical diagnostics or molecular biology, with testing covering a widespread area of the Volta and Oti regions, the Asuogyaman District of Eastern Region, and occasionally for Ada in the Greater Accra Region The project continues to deliver routine testing and surveillance across these areas, as well as genetic epidemiology and other research in differential diagnostics, diagnostic development, and seroepidemiology. With genetic surveillance, the project is able to identify the variants characterizing each pandemic wave in Ghana, significantly enhancing the global data for a better overall understanding of Covid-19 in Ghana and, more broadly, in Africa.
The second speaker of the event was Professor Till Bachmann, the Deputy Head of Infection Medicine and Personal Chair of Molecular Diagnostics and Infection at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Prof. Bachmann spoke on “Co-designed diagnostics solutions to tackle antimicrobial resistance in the community in India,” where he shared insights from an ESRC- and DBT-funded DOSA project (Diagnostics for One Health and User Driven Solutions for AMR) that addresses UTI diagnostics in peri-urban and rural Assam. The project used ethnography to assess the antimicrobial situation context and develop a target product profile to meet user needs for self-testing. This incorporated co-design sessions with community members, ultimately compiling a UTI diagnostic ‘bundle’ that included tutorials, guidance, and data capture along with a biodegradable UTI diagnostic test. The test was not made to replace consultation with healthcare workers, rather, it informs community members whether to enter the healthcare setting to seek further care. In an initial implementation test in the community, Prof. Bachmann and his team found that strengthening UTI literacy with the information included with the test strengthened the overall healthcare system, helping to restructure relationships between stakeholders, from community members to healthcare workers, and improve health-seeking behavior.
Made clear by Prof. Duedu’s and Prof. Bachmann’s presentations and ensuing Q&A is the significant gap that exists in accounting for respective contexts in the research, development, and implementation of global health diagnostics, and, importantly, the current work being done to close this gap. Both Prof. Duedu’s and Prof. Bachmann’s projects showcase the resourcefulness and health equitability advanced by frugal diagnostics as practice—in this case, the attention to laboratory and end-user needs in the Global South that enables local diagnostics innovations and solutions. To close the session, both speakers were asked what they believe the priorities are for frugal diagnostics in the next decade. Prof. Duedu stressed that research, development, implementation activities must be tailored to the resources and capabilities that are currently available in a specific setting. In a similar vein, Prof. Bachmann highlighted the need to talk and work with end-users to gain genuine understandings of individual and community needs on the ground. Thus, on both sides of the equation—advancing the supply needs of respective diagnostic capacities as well as responding to end-user needs for community literacy and uptake—an overarching theme foregrounds context and mutuality alongside technological development and scale. Taking all of this together, the Global Frugal Diagnostic’s 2nd Virtual Meet and Greet proved a success in creating the space for these conversations, advancing the global connections needed to answer these calls.
This event and blog were supported by the Global Frugal Diagnostics Network, with support from Heriot-Watt University, the Royal Academy of Engineering (Frontiers Champion Award), the University of Edinburgh, the European Research Council (grant number 715450), and the Kühne Foundation.
Founding members include Maïwenn Kersaudy-Kerhoas (Heriot-Watt University), Harry Akligoh (Yemaachi Biotech), Zibusiso Ndlovu (MSF), Alice Street (University of Edinburgh), Ayokunle Olanrewaju (University of Washington), and Elena Rosca (Ashesi University). Shannon Branigin is the Global Frugal Diagnostics Network Media and Communications Officer. For more information about the Network, join the Slack space and follow @GlobalFrugalDx on twitter/X.