How many of you have a smartphone which is capable of doing so much but all you use it for is phone calls, SMS, Whatsapp, Facebook, checking email, taking pictures and maybe reminders and alarms — which is probably only 20 percent of what is capable of? There is one more function to add to your mobile phone: the ability to test for syphilis and HIV.
When I read the headlines — ‘Lab on a chip turns smartphones into mobile disease clinics’ and ‘Smartphone test for HIV and syphilis costs pennies’ — I was curious but sceptical because in what way can a mobile phone detect HIV? In fact what it really is, is a device attached to the mobile phone.
A trial in Rwanda of 96 patients in a community clinic using the $34 smartphone attachment rapidly and accurately detected the presence of HIV and syphilis antibodies. The plastic attachment, about the size of the phone itself uses disposable cartridges. A health-care worker takes a blood sample from a pin prick, loads it into the cartridges which are then inserted into the device, they then mix with other chemicals and in 15 minutes you have the results on the phone screen. The tiny amount of current available in a smartphone audio jack is all that is needed to power the sensing and data management
The idea is novel but I note that mainly Western news channels picked up the story. I have a number of reservations — firstly, $34 is not cheap? Are the results stored on the phone? Is this restricted to health workers? It relies on smartphones; how many have smartphones? And in some communities electricity is a problem. How is the data stored and secured? What if a health worker takes their phone to a charging station; will someone be able to access the data? Or if the phone gets stolen? Will the public be able to use it? Is the $34 a one off cost? Otherwise, aren’t the standard rapid test kits at $1-2 or sometimes even less more affordable? Can it test using fluids like saliva such as Oraquick?
The technology used in the device is quite hi-tech and the inventors from USA herald it as a breakthrough technology but I am not sold on this one. I think Oraquick which tests HIV in saliva has more promise than this device.