Infectious diseases continue to cause an enormous burden of death and disability in developing countries. Increasing access to appropriate treatment for infectious diseases could have a major impact on disease burden. Some common infections can be managed syndromically without the need for diagnostic tests, but this is not appropriate for many infectious diseases, in which a positive diagnostic test is needed before treatment can be given. Since many people in developing countries do not have access to laboratory services, diagnosis depends on the availability of point of care (POC) tests. Historically there has been little investment in POC tests for diseases that are common in developing countries, but that is now changing. Lack of regulation of diagnostic tests in many countries has resulted in the widespread use of sub-standard POC tests, especially for malaria, making it difficult for manufacturers of reliable POC tests to compete. In recent years increased investment, technological advances, and greater awareness about the importance of reliable diagnostic tests has resulted in rapid progress. Rapid, reliable and affordable POC tests, requiring no equipment and minimal training, are now available for HIV infection, syphilis and malaria, but POC tests for other infections are urgently needed. Many countries do not have established criteria for licensing and introducing new diagnostic tests, and many clinicians in developing countries have become disillusioned with diagnostic tests and prefer to rely on clinical judgment. Continuing advocacy and training in the use of POC tests are needed, and systems for quality control of POC tests need to be developed if they are to achieve their maximum potential.