The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and McGill University congratulate the team led by Dr. Nitika Pant Pai for receiving the international 2013 Accelerating Science Award Program (ASAP). The team won global recognition for developing an innovative self-test screening strategy for the Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The award, funded by Public Library of Science (PLoS), Google and Wellcome Trust, recognizes scientific innovations borne out of Open Access research that address real world challenges. Dr. Nitika Pant Pai received the $30,000 award at the World Bank in Washington, DC.
"Receiving this award is a humbling experience," says Dr. Pant Pai, RI-MUHC researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at McGill University. "On behalf of my team, I would like to thank the award sponsors and Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) for funding this innovative research."
Despite approximately 2.5 million new cases of HIV being diagnosed each year across the world, six out of ten cases go undiagnosed, often due to the stigma attached to being tested.
"The HIV self-test screening tools developed by Dr. Pant Pai and her team offer a major step forward in addressing this global health issue," says Dr. David Eidelman, Dean of Medicine and Vice-Principal (Health Affairs), Faculty of Medicine, McGill University. "Dr. Pant Pai is a talented researcher and professor, whose work is a great inspiration to students. We are very proud to have her work within our Faculty."
"The development of this innovative application represents a major advancement in our ability to deal with the evolving HIV epidemic that affects people worldwide," adds Dr. Vassilios Papadopoulos Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer of the RI-MUHC. "Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination are often associated with HIV. I am proud of our researchers for breaking down the boundaries that will lead to improved access to care."
The award-winning HIV screening strategy, which was developed at the Royal Victoria Hospital of the MUHC, involves an oral, over-the-counter,self-test that detects the presence of HIV antibodies, coupled with an interactive website and mobile phone app called HIVSmart. Users are guided through a confidential process of self-testing, which contains information, instructional videos, a 24 hour help line and confidential linkages to care and counselling.
HIV testing in health facilities has been less successful than hoped because of the stigma, discrimination privacy issues and long wait times. This strategy addresses some of these issues in a simple and effective way, allowing individuals to be tested in the privacy of their own homes and seek immediate medical advice.
"Introducing self-testing for HIV in many global communities is controversial and risky. There are unanswered questions and concerns that prevent people from taking the first step," explains Dr. Pant Pai. "We cannot ignore the fact that groups most affected with high rates of HIV infections are also marginalized, poor and vulnerable. They face access-to-care issues and need help in ways that other groups do not. We developed this innovation to respond to their needs."
"Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada, is proud to have supported Dr. Pant Pai's bold idea which could have such big impact on the lives of people with HIV. Dr. Pant Pai certainly is a Star in Global Health!" says Dr. Peter A. Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada.
Currently, HIVSmart works on Android devices, but researchers are working on an iOS version, as well as expanding the number of languages. "We hope that this tool will be available to more people, through more phones in more countries over the coming months, including Canada," concludes Dr. Pant Pai.