braunstein3_Chung Sung-JunGetty Images_southkoreacoronavirustests Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

What Caused the COVID-19 Testing Deficit?

As the divergent experiences of the US and South Korea show, testing can be the difference between disease containment and catastrophe. Rather than relying on national governments to ensure the rapid development, production, and deployment of diagnostics during outbreaks, the world needs a global coordinating platform.

CAMBRIDGE – The United States is the world’s richest country, and home to ten of the 20 largest diagnostics companies. And yet, it not only has suffered more deaths from COVID-19 than any other country, but also remains highly vulnerable to a continued escalation. The reason is simple: there are not enough diagnostic tests.

During a disease outbreak, medicines and vaccines understandably get a lot of attention. But diagnostics are effectively a first line of defense against transmission, particularly for a disease like COVID-19, which can be spread by asymptomatic carriers. As the divergent experiences of the US and South Korea show, testing can be the difference between containment and catastrophe.

The COVID-19 outbreak began on a similar trajectory in both countries, with the number of confirmed cases increasing at a comparable rate. But South Korea’s government quickly took action to create a market for rapid innovation and fulfillment of testing demand, boosting its capacity to 15,000 tests per day and establishing drive-through centers to conduct them.

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