A Montreal doctor has developed a smartphone app that could help people to detect HIV through self-testing — though it has been yet to be improved in Canada.
The revolutionary HIV at-home tests make it more accessible to those who need it most.
The app, HIVSmart!, was developed by McGill University Health Centre researcher Dr. Nitika Pant Pai who says that one of the challenges to eliminating HIV is stigma, which dissuades people from being tested.
HIVSmart! guides an individual through the process of performing their own HIV screening test, which consists of obtaining an oral fluid sample from the gum lining of their mouth.
The non-invasive test can detect the presence of HIV antibodies within 20 minutes and can be conducted in the privacy of one’s own home. The app gives users additional information, instructional videos, a 24-hour helpline and confidential links to healthcare facilities and access to counsellors should they have a positive test.
Globally, 26.9 million people live with HIV/AIDS and an astounding 50% of those infected do now know they are HIV positive, according to the McGill University Health Centre Foundation.
Although global transmission rates are now in decline, a combination of stigma, discrimination, social visibility and fear of non-confidentiality often prevent people from getting tested in proper healthcare facilities.
“HIVsmart! is an open-access mobile app that can be used to encourage people in any community to get tested for HIV,” says Dr. Pai. “By increasing accessibility, we will demystify the process and empower people to get tested more quickly. It is this type of innovation that will bring about social change and will have a positive long-term impact on our global health population.”
The app, which took 10 years to develop, mimics a medical visit by answering questions and providing a diagnosis.
In order to use the test, the patient needs a saliva sample from a home-testing kit which is not yet legal in Canada.
The country’s Health Minister says it’s too early to move forward when it comes to self-testing in Canada.