A new app allows users to self-test for HIV, which has proven to help positive patients get access to medical care and counseling services faster.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put immense pressure on health care systems, particularly in low-resource settings. While the coronavirus has stolen the spotlight for over a year, HIV persists as a significant global health issue, affecting around 40 million people. To help deal with the ongoing HIV crisis, researchers are turning to digital solutions such as apps that could enhance access to HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care in areas where health systems are already at breaking point.
HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus, is a pathogen that launches an unrelenting attack on the immune system, and if not treated, can lead to AIDS. There is no cure for HIV infections, but with prompt access to medical care, HIV can be controlled, allowing patients to lead long, healthy lives.
Researchers at McGill University Health Centre created HIVSmart!, a self-test program implemented across communities in Western Cape, South Africa.
In collaboration with local doctors and community healthcare workers, the researchers published a study in BMJ Global Health that compared the effectiveness of their app versus conventional HIV testing practices.
This study was a timely response to the WHO’s call for increased evidence supporting the use of digital approaches to improving services associated with HIV self-testing. In particular, the researchers sought to determine whether their app could bridge the gap left by existing HIV self-tests, which did not link users with preventative or treatment care strategies after testing.
Ultimately, the research, led by Nitika Pant Pai, proved that HIVSmart! made an impact, with the potential to improve detection rates and links to care. “Our study shows that a flexible, anonymized, secure, app-based digital program can be successfully deployed with young digitally savvy populations, even in low-resource settings,” said Pant Pai.