Sub-saharan Africa represents over 70% of the world´s population infected with HIV, or over 1.2 million people newly infected every year. A significant and increasing percentage of these infections are occurring in young people, a demographic particularly hard to target with traditional HIV viral load testing due to expense and a reluctance to return to clinics to obtain results. Conseuqently, nearly half of people infected with HIV do not know they have the virus; a fact that perpetutates the spread of the disease.
We propose to develop a handheld rapid nucleic acid test (NAT) that would allow test results within 30-mins, without the stigma or expense of attending centralized clinics. We hypothesise that this would greatly improve the diagnosis of HIV, and therefore have a significant affect on rates of infection. Although rapid immunoassays to detect HIV antibodies exist, to date we are not aware of any rapid NAT test for HIV, depsite the most infectious phase of HIV infection occuring prior to antibody generation and therefore could be missed by immunoassays. In addition to diagnosis, viral load testing is crucial for infected patients to monitor the response to treatment and progress of the disease.
Current HIV viral load testing technology is based on PCR methods, a technique that requires centralized laboratory testing that is slow (turn around time typically 2-3 days), expensive and requires infrastructres and transport chains that are difficult to implement in many parts of sub-sahran Africa. By integrating the test in a simple to use lab-on-a-chip format we can overcome many of these problems.