Simple swab test for HIV empowers patients
by Jennifer Nault
Imagine a day when a potentially life-saving screening test is only a touchscreen away. Well, that day is very close thanks to the McGill/McGill University Health Centre research team that recently won a global innovation award for developing a self-screening strategy for HIV.
The team’s approach focused on overcoming a number of social barriers to HIV testing. “The problem we identified early on was that 6 in 10 individuals worldwide did not want to be tested for HIV,” says assistant professor of medicine Nikita Pant Pai, the researcher who led the study. This means six in 10 people may go undiagnosed. “Getting people to show up for HIV testing at public clinics has been difficult because of visibility, stigma, lack of privacy, and discrimination,” she states in a press release.
The self-administered test can detect the presence of HIV antibodies, and the strategy includes an interactive website and mobile phone app, which is called HIVSmart. The app is designed to guide users through the process of self-testing, and includes helpful links, such as counselling information.
Confidentiality is a significant factor informing the development of the strategy. “A confidential testing option such as self-testing could bring an end to the stigmatization associated with HIV testing,” Pant Pai explains.
Prior to developing their HIV testing strategy, the team reviewed 21 global studies and found that there was a market – and a dire need – for an innovative self-testing method. “Getting people around the world to test for HIV could help bring the epidemic under control, by finding infected patients earlier before they infect others,” the report found.
The MUHC researchers were among three teams selected from around the world to receive the Accelerating Science Award Program (ASAP), a new initiative launched by the Public Library of Science with support from Google and the Wellcome Trust to promote innovative research projects, published through open access channels, that benefit society. The $30,000 awards were recently presented at the World Bank in Washington, DC.
Along with Pant Pai, the other members of the MUHC team who share the award are Roni Deli-Houssein, Caroline Vadnais and Sushmita Shivkumar.