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I am divisional vice president responsible for Abbott’s rapid diagnostic products in the Middle East and Africa. These diagnostic tests help provide people with valuable information about their health status—where and when they seek care. In the region, Abbott has operations in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, South Africa, Kenya, and Uganda, to name but a few.
Beyond this region, Abbott is a 130-year-old global healthcare company with 109,000 employees in 160 countries. We serve the world through our products and services in medical devices, diagnostics, nutritionals and medicines. Most recently, Fortune magazine ranked Abbott as one of its “Top 50 Most Admired Companies.”
When I joined Abbott in 2019, I was attracted to the company’s commitment to making healthcare more accessible. Abbott has made healthcare accessibility a core aspect of our 2030 Sustainability Plan, which maps out our long-term strategies to shape the future of healthcare by re-thinking product development and how we bring new technologies to market. This includes designing our life-changing technologies with access and affordability from the start.
Of course, you can’t make healthcare available to 1 out of every 3 people in the world without making it affordable and accessible, and that’s where rapid diagnostics can make a huge impact. They are designed to be portable, easy to use and empower patients to take more control in their healthcare decisions. At Abbott, we’re focused on advancing rapid diagnostic technology to be more flexible, accessible and affordable so anyone, anywhere has access to high-quality health information.
I’m proud to be representing Abbott and sharing the latest advancements in rapid diagnostic technology at this year’s Medlab event. We are showcasing a broad spectrum of our point-of-care rapid diagnostics including COVID-19, HIV, respiratory, cardiovascular, diabetes, and toxicology products.
Connectivity in diagnostics is about connecting people with answers about their health, where they live, work and study. The rapid diagnostic technology we’re pioneering here at Abbott gives people access to more information, faster, that puts them in greater control of their own healthcare. Patients are at the centre of all design and innovations – from where the test is administered to when results are received and then how that information is shared with other important stakeholders: your doctor’s office, a school, the workplace or even an airline.
Across Africa and the Middle East, governments, people and private health providers need options. And that’s what sets Abbott apart from other companies. We’ve brought the world’s most cutting-edge molecular diagnostics in the core lab to the region, which can amplify the DNA billions of times to detect infectious diseases and then measuring how much viral load is in those samples.
But we don’t stop there, because this region is so diverse. We also know rapid diagnostics are important to connect people to treatment in areas that lack traditional healthcare infrastructure. Especially in rural environments or among hard-to-reach populations, rapid diagnostics at the point-of-care can connect people to the care and treatment they need, without requiring patients to travel long distances or wait days for results.
The more data that we have, the better we can be informed about how to make healthcare decisions that benefit people and governments. For example, take our Sympheos system, which provides real-time data collection and visibility to governments and ministries of health.
Sympheos gives health authorities visibility into how rapid tests are being deployed and rates of positivity. The healthcare worker in the field inputs test results into the Sympheos app, and then those results get shared back to health ministries so that the authorities can track emerging hotspots and outbreaks.
Armed with this critical data, the government can rush critical tools – like more rapid tests or medicines – to help manage an outbreak. Using malaria as an example, malaria spray, bed nets and anti-malarial drugs can be sent by the government or NGOs to areas of the country where they’re most needed. This helps manage budgets better and quell outbreaks before they become widespread.
In the core lab, laboratory professionals need harmonised solutions that run seamlessly together and can be scaled using the same informatics software and broad set of assays from trusted companies. Reference laboratories capable of running millions of samples will always be important. But rapid testing is here to stay too, and the trend toward decentralisation of diagnostic testing will be a theme for the next decade.
The rise of the Delta, and now the Omicron, variant underscores the ongoing importance of core laboratory diagnostics and broader partnership to detect and sequence new variants.
Abbott’s Pandemic Defense Coalition was established earlier this year to put testing in a broader strategy of future pandemic preparedness. The Coalition is the first-of-its-kind global scientific network dedicated to the early detection of, and rapid response to, future pandemic threats. Working closely with our lab partner in South Africa, we were able to quickly sequence Omicron and ensure our tests remain effective at detecting this new variant.
Let’s step back and compare the Middle East and Africa to other parts of the world, like Europe and North America.
Prior to the pandemic, most of the Middle East and Africa were familiar with rapid testing. We’ve been using rapid tests for decades as public health tools because they’re affordable, accessible and identify people who are sick or who are vectors for onboard disease transmission. For example, Abbott screened the entire population of Egypt for hepatitis C using our rapid tests.
But in Europe and North America, rapid testing was less understood before the pandemic, so there was an initial scepticism that meant rapid tests could have been deployed more quickly. I believe there’s a great role for Middle Eastern and African countries who are strong proponents of rapid testing to educate the world in how they’ve successfully deployed them to tackle hepatitis, malaria, HIV, COVID, dengue and other diseases.
We know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all testing strategy for all of the Middle East and Africa, so we are continuing to bring new and better solutions to the market that can help meet the needs of each country and community. Access and health equity will continue to be areas that need to be addressed – both for COVID-19 recovery and other infectious and non-infectious diseases.
Improving access and addressing healthcare inequities globally are core to Abbott’s future business plans and we will continue to keep access and affordability top-of-mind with our product innovation, procurement and supply chain structures, and our partnerships.
At the outset of the pandemic, we knew that testing was going to be critical in helping slow the spread of the virus and getting people back to living a bit more normally. We invested hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D to develop tests and manufacture them at scale. Since 2020, Abbott has developed and launched 12 different tests to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its antibodies. We’ve delivered more than 1 billion COVID-19 tests globally and we aren’t slowing down.
More people than ever have turned to rapid testing in the past few months as the Delta variant became the dominant strain this past fall, and now with the rise of the Omicron variant. Knowing this, we continue to innovate our diagnostic technology for greater access and affordability. Putting patients at the centre of their healthcare decisions and getting tests to those who need them most represents a future where we can live with more information and greater confidence.