Why water testing is the next big diagnostic challenge – MedCity News

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MedCity Influencers, Devices & Diagnostics
By Phil Groom

After two years of living with a global pandemic, we are more familiar than ever with the need for public health measures.
The pandemic has also brought into sharp focus just how closely linked our health and wellbeing are to the environment in which we live.
While it remains to be seen whether Covid-19 will leave a legacy in terms of the way we think and behave when it comes to taking public health precautions, at least it’s raised awareness of the benefits of good hygiene and sanitation.
One area that will become a significant public health focus in the coming years is water quality. This is already a major concern in some locations and will continue expanding globally.
Access to potable water, sanitation, and hygiene (often referred to as ‘WASH’) is essential to protect human health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that inadequate management of urban, industrial, and agricultural wastewater means the drinking-water of hundreds of millions of people is dangerously contaminated or chemically polluted.
It estimates that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in “water-stressed” areas – where demand for potable water exceeds availability.
What are the issues?
Unclean water is a major cause of disease transmission, causing an estimated five million deaths worldwide every year.
The list of contaminants is long and growing – from viruses and pathogens to pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides and herbicides, sewage, and industrial waste.
In the developing world an absence of, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose millions of people to preventable health risks every year.
In the developed world, industries are under pressure to meet the various demands, standards and regulations of governments and health authorities regarding the detection and management of specific pollutants in water.
This challenge is expected to grow as the range of waterborne contaminants continues to expand, threatening domestic supplies and treatment systems.
As we emerge from the pandemic, we could also see a sudden spike in water quality and contamination issues as facilities and buildings that have lain dormant during lockdowns are reopened and reactivated.
We need better solutions
Current water monitoring and testing systems can be expensive, complex and slow. Due to the significant impact that contamination can have on public health, most testing is performed in certified laboratories under stringent conditions.
This process, which still utilizes some technology components developed in the 1900s, is often too slow to provide results within an actionable timeframe.
The infrastructure and equipment required for such systems is also often prohibitively expensive and complex, especially for authorities in developing countries.
Therefore, affordable, simple, and rapid solutions are required to verify water quality and water treatment effectiveness. Several options are already available, but one that could make a real difference to public health is lateral flow testing. We already know how much of an impact lateral flow tests have made in the pandemic, helping to reduce the spread of the virus by identifying asymptomatic patients.
When it comes to water testing, lateral flow assays can be used to detect and verify the presence or absence of pathogens such as Legionella and E. coli, viruses such as Covid-19, and other contaminants from a relatively small water sample.
Some tests can be ‘multiplexed’ to detect multiple contaminants simultaneously from the same sample.
Data capture can transform simple tests
By adding data capture, storage and analysis, lateral flow tests can become even more powerful tools to verify water safety.
Connecting a lateral flow test to a smartphone or mobile device with an app allows test results and other data to be captured at source and stored securely in the cloud where it can be accessed by relevant stakeholders, visualised on a dashboard, and analysed.
For water testing, this means evidence of impurity can be collected rapidly and action can be taken more quickly than would be possible with lab-based testing.
Frequent rapid testing of water using lateral flow tests with data capture can put power in the hands of individuals, businesses, and industries, providing them with reliable, actionable data with which to make time sensitive decisions.
The market is huge and growing – commercial test users could include water utilities and water treatment providers, healthcare and social care providers, hotel and hospitality groups, smart plumbing companies, and transportation providers such as airlines and railways.
This kind of system could also be a game changer to developing countries that lack water testing and monitoring infrastructure, even serving as an early warning system that could prevent wider disease outbreaks.
The water challenge will only grow
Issues such as climate change, increasing water scarcity, population growth, demographic changes and urbanisation are going to pose major problems for water supply systems in future.
That’s why, following the pandemic, water testing is going to be the world’s next big diagnostic challenge. If we apply the lessons we’ve learned from the use of rapid testing during the pandemic to that challenge, we stand a better chance of managing our most valuable resource for the benefit of all.
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Phil Groom is Commercial Director for Bond Digital Health, a global medtech company that provides data capture and management solutions for lateral flow diagnostics. Phil is the Chair of the Digital Working Party of BIVDA – the British In Vitro Diagnostic Association. He is a published author and has 20+ years’ experience in the pharmaceutical industry.
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