Improving access to healthcare in India

THE HUMAN IMMUNODEFICIENCY VIRUS—HIV—AFFECTS AN ESTIMATED 2.4 MILLION PEOPLE IN INDIA and the stigma and discrimination often associated with HIV interferes with proper diagnosis and treatment.

Nitika Pant Pai, an assistant professor of medicine (clinical epidemiology), has developed an award-winning HIV screening strategy with an oral, over-the-counter self-test that detects the presence of HIV antibodies. This screening method also includes an interactive website and mobile phone app called HIVSmart, complete with instructional videos and resources for care and counselling.

Pant Pai designed the app to provide diagnostic services to marginalized groups most affected with high rates of HIV infection. “Introducing self testing for HIV in many global communities is controversial and risky,” says Pant Pai. “[These groups] face access-to-care issues and need help in ways that other groups do not. We developed this innovation to respond to their needs.”

For her work, Pant Pai received the 2013 Accelerating Science Award, which recognizes Open Access research addressing real world challenges. She is also the recipient of a $100,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada, a program that rewards inventive ideas for transforming how disease is treated in the developing world.

Madhukar Pai, Pant Pai’s husband and associate professor of epidemiology, also received a $100,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada for a pilot project to assess the quality of tuberculosis (TB) care in India. The project will use researchers posing as TB patients to evaluate how well healthcare providers are able to offer accurate examination, diagnosis and drug treatment follow-up.

“India accounts for 25 percent of the global TB burden,” says Pai, who also serves as associate director of the McGill International TB Centre. “Poorly managed TB drives the epidemic and generates drug resistance. Improving the quality of TB care is a high priority to control the disease.”

Madhukar Pai’s project will subsequently be expanded to larger projects in two cities thanks to a $1-million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.