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At work on a test for HIV,in the privacy of one’s home

Also in the works,a low-cost test for tuberculosis.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | Published: July 19, 2011 3:59:10 am

A new strategy aims to bring HIV tests home. It will be based on an oral swab-based test,but the results can be read at home and the person who has taken the test can then check for its accuracy by following up the results with counselling over the phone,with blood tests if necessary,says the doctor who is working on the strategy.

Nitika Pai,of Indian origin and now a permanent resident of Canada,said HIV tests can detect the virus in either serum,saliva or plasma. What she has planned is the use of one of the existing kits so that the swab is placed in the mouth and the oral fluid is then mixed in a vial amid “a developing situation”. The results are read from a stick-like testing device. How accurate the finding is,can be later followed up with counselling and then subsequently a blood test,she says.

Her husband,Prof Madhukar Pai,is meanwhile working on an accurate,low-cost test for tuberculosis. He plans to use biomarkers like abdominal fluid. “We will take two biomarkers and then put it on a strip test which can detect the disease. The strip test will barely cost Rs 100 to Rs 150 and the results will be validated with our researchers in India,” he told The Indian Express.

The Pais,who trained in Allahabad and Vellore,now work at McGill University,Montreal. He is associate professor in the department of epidemiology & biostatistics; she is assistant professor of medicine.

They said they have tied up with Indian companies to devise the two tests. Each has won an award of $100,000 to follow up his or her strategy. The awards are part of an initiative of Grand Challenges Canada — Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health. Grand Challenges Canada is a non-profit organisation working on health initiatives in developing countries.

The awards are initially for up to 18 months; if the tests are reviewed successfully,scaled-up grants of up to $1million for two to three years may be awarded.

Nitika Pai’s idea is to develop an integrated,public health-oriented,self-testing strategy that uses the internet,mobile phones,and rapid point-of-care HIV tests. Such a personalised HIV self-testing strategy will aim for a social innovation and ending stigma/discrimination associated with HIV,she said.

“We are entering an era of personalised medicine. There is a lot of stigma around HIV. There is fear of disclosure. There aren’t enough counsellors. Self-testing for HIV is needed by those who desire a confidential private option that allows one to know their status in the privacy of their homes,” she said,adding that they were in the process of finalising partners in South Africa and India.

Madhukar Pai said that TB,a disease that kills millions of people,is hard to diagnose,and there is no accurate,rapid,low-cost test. He hopes to make the tests eventually available at under $2 each. The test will be co-developed with Tulip Group in Goa,with clinical validation at the Christian Medical College in Vellore.

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