HIV remains a huge killer in Sub-Saharan Africa; especially in Malawi where up to 18% of the population is HIV positive. Early detection of the virus coupled with appropriate treatment can enormously improve both quality and length of life after diagnosis, which is why researchers at Warwick Medical School are embarking on a study to investigate the costs and benefits of home-based HIV testing in Malawi.
In a bid to encourage earlier and more convenient health screening, a £300,000 grant from the Wellcome Trust will fund a study amongst 34,000 residents in Blantyre, Malawi examining potential cost-savings made through early diagnosis and treatment.
Hendy Maheswaran, a Wellcome Trust Research Training Fellow and Public Health Doctor at Warwick Medical School, explained:
"For many individuals, the long and expensive trip to a hospital or clinic prevents people seeking treatment until their condition is heavily advanced and they are severely unwell.
"Conducting the tests at home offers convenience and confidentiality and may remove some of the barriers which stop people getting tested sooner," added Hendy.
The test is a simple and convenient mouth swab which offers instant, reliable results. With a HIV counsellor on hand, immediate advice and counselling can be provided and ensures that a treatment programme can be put in place speedily.
Hendy is confident that the economic benefits of early diagnosis will result in lower overall treatment costs, plus the fact that early treatment reduces onward transmission would bring huge potential public health and social benefits too.
Working in collaboration with the College of Medicine in Malawi, Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Clinical Research Programme and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Hendy will lead the programme and be based in Malawi to oversee the research. This study underpins Warwick Medical School's focus on research in resource poor communities to improve public health and should this programme prove successful, it is a model which could be feasibly rolled out across other areas of Africa in the future.