HIV and Syphilis Testing: There’s an App for That

 

Article by Becky Errico | 539 words

Apps are allowing us to do more wherever we are. Some provide convenience, others provide fun. But others delve into much more serious matters. It was only a matter of time before healthcare became a possibility too—in this case, HIV and syphilis testing. The technology was developed out of Columbia University and has been getting attention thanks to an article in the academic magazine Science Translational Medicine.

How a Smartphone can Test Blood

It’s fairly simple, consisting of only the app and an accessory that plugs into the smartphone. After plugging in the accessory, the person pricks their finger and puts a small drop of blood on the dongle. After fifteen minutes, the results are ready. The device works by searching the blood for an HIV antibody and two syphilis antibodies, FoxNews.com explains.

The testing device

Credit: Dezeen.com

This could open many doors for where testing could take place. The app could allow for more convenient blood testing in rural areas or developing countries where electricity is limited. For example, with the new app, a fourth-generation iPod Touch could test forty-one patients on one charge, says ScienceMag.org.

If the technology is approved, it could revolutionize STD testing worldwide. It would be far less expensive than the equipment usually seen at doctor offices today. The equipment can cost about $18,450, but the app’s companion dongle costs only $34, says Fox News. It would also allow healthcare to move away from the confines of hospitals, which is a trend mobile technology has facilitated lately.

Testing the Technology

A team led by associate professor Samuel Sia of Columbia University went to Rwanda, an African country, to try the app and accessory out. The location was picked because of the high transmission rate of STDs from mother to child there. The high transmission rate of HIV and syphilis was also part of the reason why the app was made in the first place, according to Fox News.

They partnered with other groups, including the Rwanda Biomedical Center and the Institute of HIV Disease and Prevention and Control, as Fox News goes on to explain. They showed 96 pregnant women from local clinics how to test themselves. ScienceMag.org reports that the device was 96 percent accurate, only missing one case of dormant syphilis.

Concerns about the Smartphone App

As you might have expected, this new technology has come with its fair share of concerns. Namely, is it safe for consumers? People aren’t concerned about the health precautions so much as the privacy of the users’ data. The results would go onto a memory card that could then be given to a medical professional. But Sia claims the card just needs to be kept safe, according to Fox News. This isn’t entirely reassuring, however, given all the privacy concerns associated with smartphone use. Nobody would want others to find out they’re HIV positive without their permission.

Privacy concerns aside, this test could just be the beginning. The technology used now can help create other blood tests that could be used in similar situations. Sia believes it could lead to tests for hormone levels, cancer markers and more, as Fox News explains. That’s quite an impressive vision, especially considering how some people view smartphones as nothing more than silly distractions.

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