News / Africa

HIV: Verifying the Test Results


Joe DeCapua


Small kits are now available – similar to pregnancy tests – that can determine whether a person is infected with HIV, the AIDS virus.  But the tests can give a false positive reading if used incorrectly, possibly dealing an emotional or psychological blow.  University of Michigan researchers say they may have solved that problem with a way to test the test.

The quick HIV tests call for a drop of blood to be placed in a tiny bowl or well, where it mixes with chemicals.  A positive result is indicated by a colored band that appears perpendicular to a control bar.  However, human error can result in a false reading.  Or the image may be difficult to read and fail to clearly indicate any result.

Professor Ali El Kateeb, of the University of Michigan’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, says, “These are kits that generate some images.  Sometimes these images are not clear.  Sometimes the people get confused by reading their testing result from these kits.”

Professor Ali El Kateeb
Professor Ali El Kateeb

His team is working on a prototype of a device that verifies HIV test results.

“Actually, I don’t have any name for it,” he says, “but it is very small.  It’s like the size of the hand of a human being.  So, it’s not a big device.”

The device can take the guesswork out of reading the HIV test kit.

He says, “Just to make sure that the result provided to the patient is going to be accurate 100 percent.  We don’t leave things to the patient to say this could be positive, it could be negative, and then maybe they get the wrong result or interpret the result wrongly.”

The kits may also come with very technical instructions, adding to the confusion.  El Kateeb says to find out whether the HIV testing kit is accurate, you simply insert the kit itself into a slot in the prototype device.

HIV: Verifying the Test Results
HIV: Verifying the Test Results

“If you take that kit after you put the blood (on it) and put it inside this device, the device can read the image and tell the people if they have the HIV positive or negative,” says El Kateeb.

It verifies the results almost immediately.

The University Of Michigan professor says it’s unclear when the device will be on the market, but he sees uses for it in developing countries – possibly placed in pharmacies or small clinics.  He currently estimates the initial cost would be about $200.

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