The HIVSmart! app created by a McGill University professor is one of six projects to win “next-step scale-up” funding from Grand Challenges Canada.
Developed by Nitika Pant Pai and the Research Institute of McGill University Health Centre, HIVSmart! is a smartphone-based HIV self-test application that helps identify undiagnosed HIV cases and people at risk of infection. The team received $1 million.
“HIVSmart! is a bold idea that could have a big impact on the lives of people with HIV,” Dr. Peter A. Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada, told MTLinTECH.
In a trial of 251 healthcare workers, all those who self-tested positive for HIV sought counselling and care. A majority (91 per cent) of participants rated the tool easy-to-use, non-invasive, private and painless. With new support from Grand Challenges Canada and partners, HIVSmart! will be implemented and tested across South Africa. With the support of South African partners, the strategy will be made available to many populations within Sub Saharan Africa.
According to Grand Challenges, half of all people infected with HIV worldwide do not know their status. While treatment for HIV is universally available, stigma, discrimination, privacy, and confidentiality concerns are barriers to seeking testing. Undetected, untreated HIV is a huge health challenge for individuals with HIV and for the general public. Undiagnosed individuals pose a strong risk to transmit the disease to others, such as their partners and children.
With new funding at its disposal, HIVSmart! wants to “save the lives of about 300 individuals who are estimated to be found to be HIV positive and linked to counselling and care, and 1500 lives will be improved through enhanced access to testing and improved linkages to clinical care and retention.” It will be implemented in South Africa, where its impact and cost-effectiveness will be measured. The plan will seek to reduce the risk of transmission and infection.
The funding for HIVSmart! will be given by the government of Canada and matched by a range of partners, including Grand Challenges South Africa, the South Africa Medical Research Council’s Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships program, South Africa’s Department of Science & Technology, Orasure Technologies, the Research Institute of McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and the University of Cape Town.
The smartphone and web app strategy engages, interprets and links self-testers to counselling and clinical care. HIVSmart! is used in conjunction with an approved HIV self-test kit, offering a “de-stigmatized, private and confidential testing option” for individuals who suspect they are infected with HIV.
HIVSmart! won the 2013 Accelerating Science Award Program (ASAP) for innovation from Google, PLOS and the Wellcome Trust. Meanwhile, Dr. Pai’s pioneering work on oral HIV testing has been published in PLOS Medicine, The Lancet ID and PLOS One.
Five other projects won funding from Grand Challenges Canada:
Arbutus Medical / Vancouver, BC – Drill Cover: Novel cover enables safe use of low-cost hardware drills in surgery. (Implementation Regions: East Africa and India)
KA Imaging / Waterloo, ON – Digital X-ray: A low-cost, low-dose and high-resolution x-ray imager (Implementation Country: Zambia)
McMaster University / Hamilton, ON – A new, innovative way to manage acute childhood diarrheal disease (Implementation Country: Botswana)
Clearwater Clinical / Ottawa, ON – ShoeBOX Audiometer: An iPad-based solution for sustainable hearing healthcare at the point of care (Implementation Region: South America)
Wema Inc. and Queen’s University / Kingston, ON – Mobile health platforms to support cervical cancer screening, treatment and follow-up (Implementation Country: Tanzania)