The IDC/LSHTM Q&A series on the Diagnostics for the COVID-19 Response


The COVID-19 pandemic was first brought to the attention of the World Health Organization (WHO) by China when the cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology were reported by the city of Wuhan on December 31 2019.  It soon became apparent that this illness was associated with high rates of transmission and that hospitals in Wuhan were overwhelmed with cases of severe illness, some leading to death.  On January 5, Chinese scientists identified the cause of this illness as due to a corona virus. Its genome sequence shows that it is distinct from previous corona viruses that caused the SARS outbreak in 2003-2004 and the MERS outbreak in 2012-2014.  As this epidemic spread rapidly around the world mainly because of global travel, WHO declared this epidemic to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020.  It was finally declared a COVID-19 pandemic on March 11 when most countries reported sustained community transmission of the virus, officially named as SARS-CoV-2.

The figures show how fast the disease has spread globally March 12, 2020 to April 20, 2020.

Lessons from other pandemics show that it is vitally important to test early and test often. Testing isn’t just to identify those who already have the virus, but also to understand its spread and transmission rates.  Many countries have been under immense pressure to scale up testing as a key strategy to bring the pandemic under control. Diagnostics are therefore important in the response to the pandemic but there is a lot of variation and confusion with regard to the use of diagnostics and the best testing approaches to use.  To provide clarification on some key issues about testing, Professor Rosanna Peeling, the Chair of Diagnostics Research and Director of the International Diagnostics Centre of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in a series of short interviews, provides the answers to pertinent questions.