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Jointly modeling prevalence, sensitivity and specificity for optimal sample allocation

Abstract

The design and interpretation of prevalence studies rely on point estimates of the performance characteristics of the diagnostic test used. When the test characteristics are not well defined and a limited number of tests are available, such as during an outbreak of a novel pathogen, tests can be used either for the field study itself or for additional validation to reduce uncertainty in the test characteristics. Because field data and validation data are based on finite samples, inferences drawn from these data carry uncertainty. In the absence of a framework to balance those uncertainties during study design, it is unclear how best to distribute tests to improve study estimates. Here, we address this gap by introducing a joint Bayesian model to simultaneously analyze lab validation and field survey data. In many scenarios, prevalence estimates can be most improved by apportioning additional effort towards validation rather than to the field. We show that a joint model provides superior estimation of prevalence, as well as sensitivity and specificity, compared with typical analyses that model lab and field data separately.

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