Self-testing app to be introduced across 60 cities with high HIV rates

24 October 2017

On World Development Information Day, we look at an innovative HIV self-testing app being introduced to all UNAIDS Fast-Track Cities which aims to bridge the divide between testing, treatment and care.

Man on phone in train station

New technologies have the potential to dramatically alter the course of the HIV epidemic, by providing creative solutions to age-old problems. While we have the knowledge to prevent and treat HIV – we fall short in getting people aware of their status. The new HIVSmart! app aims to change that by providing greater support for people self-testing and by helping to plug the gaps between HIV services and those most at risk of HIV.  

The multilingual app works with any approved HIV self-test to assess users’ HIV exposure risk, interpret their self-test results, then link those who test positive to treatment. It is also designed to help people stay on treatment once enrolled by providing a confidential way for patients and treatment providers to communicate.

The app has been tested successfully in Canada and South Africa among men who have sex with other men, students and other people from high risk groups, and is now due to be introduced to all 60 UNAIDS Fast-Track Cities in a global roll-out.

HIVSmart! was created by a team of scientists and physicians at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), in partnership with the International Association of Providers of AIDS Care (IAPAC) and digital health social enterprise, Sympact-X.

Its development is reflective of the wider trend that is seeing innovative digital tools used for HIV prevention, testing and treatment, with e-health increasingly viewed as having a key role to play in ending AIDS as a public health threat.

Dr. Bruce Mazer, Interim Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer at RI-MUHC, said: “HIV self-testing is an empowering and innovative way of reaching key populations with undiagnosed HIV. There is often stigma and discrimination associated with going to an HIV clinic to be tested, but technology could play an important role to end the global HIV epidemic, and I am proud of our scientists...for being part of resolving this challenge.”

Since its launch on World AIDS Day 2014, cities from every region in the world have joined the Fast-Track Cities network, pledging to meet UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets (to enable 90% of people living with HIV to be aware of their status, on treatment and virally suppressed) by 2020. This increased focus on cities is due to the fact that, in countries with large HIV epidemics, the high number of people living with HIV in more concentrated urban areas means that targeting efforts there is likely to lead to significant gains. By introducing innovations such as HIVSmart! to the Fast-Track cities, it is hoped that the number of people who are able to test for HIV and access effective, life-long treatment will be greatly accelerated.

Dr. Nitika Pant Pai, Associate Professor at McGill University, said: “My team and I created an open-source smartphone application and HIV self-test that can save time and increase screening, counseling and treatment rates.
“The global scale up of HIVSmart! with IAPAC is a dream come true. It will help to bridge the gap between HIV services and populations who are most vulnerable to infection and less likely to be able to access diagnosis and treatment. HIVSmart! will also facilitate self-testing, plug service delivery gaps, and provide rapid HIV treatment initiation, ultimately leading to what we hope will be an AIDS-free generation.”

To learn more about HIVSmart! watch this video.

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Written by Hester Phillips