A key impetus for the invention of a Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) for sleeping sickness (also known as human African trypanosomiasis or HAT) was the persuasive advocacy for better ‘field ready tools’ by medical humanitarian agencies such as Médecins Sans Frontières. They were engaged in fighting outbreaks of this disease, which is fatal if untreated, in contexts of weakened health systems and mass displacements during the Central African wars of the 1990s.

This piece describes how the effectiveness of diagnostic technologies is inextricably linked to the social infrastructures surrounding them which make disease detection work. Humanitarian crises are particularly complex socio-political settings where diagnosis depends on cooperation across both government and humanitarian systems no matter the infrastructural ‘short-cuts’ new technologies appear to create.