Mobile phone-connected diagnostics for HIV
South Africa is the global epicentre of the HIV epidemic; almost seven million people are living with HIV and almost 300,000 people acquire HIV each year (Avert, 2017). A Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) project called m-Africa is transforming access to HIV testing and treatment by building a new generation of mobile phone-connected diagnostic tests and online care pathways.
HIV testing and treatment can prolong lives and reduce HIV transmission, but getting young people and men to test and link into HIV care is a huge challenge. The mobile phone-connected test and app being developed through m-Africa will detect infections and then wirelessly connect test results to healthcare systems, minimising the need for clinic visits.
The project has built a library of more than 40,000 unique images of HIV point-of-care tests to train a machine learning model that will automatically read the test results from a photo taken on a mobile device. Researchers have trained 60 field workers at the Africa Health Research Institute to help build the library. The system also incorporates novel, ultra-sensitive nanomaterials to detect the early stages of HIV.
In parallel, a prototype smartphone app is being piloted to investigate participant feelings about self-testing using an app, as well as participant reactions to being told their test results by a device, and the phone counselling and support that follows.
Delivery partners: This research was awarded by UK Research and Innovation (URKI) through the Medical Research Council (MRC) and is part of the EDCTP2 programme supported by the European Union.
Project leads: m-Africa is led by Professor Rachel McKendry at UCL and Professor Deenan Pillay at Africa Health Research Institute and UCL, in collaboration with Imperial College London and i-sense EPSRC Interdisciplinary Research Collaborations (www.i-sense.org.uk).