In 2012, a detailed research paper was published by the National Institutes of Health. The objective of the research was to understand the role of cellphones in helping infants in Zambia who were diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
The study concluded that the texting of HIV test results significantly reduced the time between sample collection and result notification to primary healthcare providers.
While texting HIV results to doctors made it possible for patients to seek medical treatment as early as possible, diagnosing the disease still remained a major challenge. However, this year, the researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital designed a comprehensive mobile diagnostic tool that can be used to detect HIV.
Here’s what you need to know about using cellphones to detect HIV.
A Brief Look at HIV
According to UNAIDS statistics, approximately 36.9 million people all over the world had HIV in 2017. Out of these, roughly 940,000 people died due to AIDS-related complications. Nearly 1.8 million children under the age of 15 were diagnosed with HIV in 2017. The number of people diagnosed with this disease is expected to increase in the coming years.
HIV is a serious medical condition that impairs the immune system, which makes the body susceptible to various illnesses. The virus destroys healthy white blood cells called T-helper cells or CD4 cells.
As the CD4 cells are destroyed, the immune system starts to weaken. If HIV remains undetected and untreated, the immune system becomes so damaged that it can no longer protect the body against harmful pathogens.
Detecting HIV is a big challenge for the medical community. In many cases, the disease cannot be detected until visible symptoms begin to appear. The disease is also associated with a social stigma, which makes it difficult for patients to seek proper medical help. In addition, the rising cost of healthcare is making things worse for people living with HIV.
Diagnosing HIV Using Cellphones
Detecting HIV in its earliest stages is one of the best ways to prevent the disease from progressing and transmitting. However, HIV detection requires careful monitoring, which could prove time-consuming for families.
Cost is another major issue. Traditional HIV detection and monitoring methods are fairly expensive. Families without proper health insurance may find it difficult to pay for these tests. Even senior citizens on Medicare or Medicaid programs face considerable difficulty getting an HIV diagnosis.
To overcome the challenges involved with diagnosing HIV, a new revolutionary cellphone technology has been developed. The system is capable of detecting the presence of HIV infection accurately and reducing the risk of virus development and transmission.
How the Technology Works
A comprehensive study in Nature Communications explains how cellphones are used in detecting HIV. The system relies on cutting-edge nanotechnology to identify potential HIV symptoms and factors.
Combining a 3D-printer phone attachment with a cellphone, a dedicated microchip, and nanotech, the researchers created a comprehensive system to detect HIV.
The system is capable of identifying RNA nucleic cells of HIV infection by analyzing a single drop of blood. The cellphone used in the experiment monitored the motion of various DNA-engineered beads to detect HIV-positive cells.
After analyzing the specificity and sensitivity of the experiment, the researchers concluded that the system could detect HIV with 94.6 percent sensitivity and 99.1 percent specificity. The relevant threshold value was set at 1000 virus particles/ml and the system was capable of analyzing results within an hour.
Why This Technology Is Promising
Traditional HIV detection techniques rely on polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which involves making several copies of a particular DNA sequence. The process can only be carried out in a laboratory and under the supervision of an expert. Cellphone-based HIV detection does not utilize the PCR method, which makes it easy to use at home.
All over the world, HIV tests are carried out using heavy machines and diagnostic systems. These machines can only be operated by licensed and experienced operators. However, a cellphone-based system is fairly easy to set up and get running. If you have the necessary accessories, you can easily conduct an HIV test in the comfort of your own home.
Portability is another major factor. Heavy HIV detection machines are difficult to import or carry along. Doctors who frequently travel to third-world countries with limited healthcare resources are unable to detect and diagnose HIV. In contrast, a cellphone is easy to carry along anywhere and can be used to conduct an HIV test and send results to a hospital while on the move.
A standard sexually transmitted disease (STD) test could cost anywhere between $10 to $30 for patients with health insurance and $50 to $200 for patients who are not covered. In comparison, the total material costs involved with a microchip and phone attachment is less than $5. It is clear that cellphone-based HIV testing is far more economical than regular HIV testing.
The accuracy of cellphone-based HIV tests is worth mentioning here too. As stated earlier, the results of this type of test are up to 99 percent accurate. The test is fast, which makes it easier for medical experts to determine the next possible course of action after the diagnosis.
According to the researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the results of cellphone-based tests are so accurate that this type of test can be used to diagnose several other diseases.
Cellphones were initially developed as a mode of communication. Thanks to the development in science and technology, this tool can now assist in diagnosing various health issues. It seems highly probable that cellphone-based HIV systems will become a norm in the upcoming years. As a result, HIV patients all over the world will have access to a reliable diagnostic tool. Once the diagnosis is complete, patients can then discuss long-term treatment plans with their medical practitioners.
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by Bobby J Davidson
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