UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences



m-Africa: Building mobile phone-­connected diagnostics and online care pathways for optimal delivery of population HIV testing, prevention and care in decentralised settings

m-Africa is a two-year GCRF Global Infections Foundation Award that received funding from the Medical Research Council in April 2017.
The aim of m-Africa is to develop low-cost, user-friendly mobile phone-connected diagnostic tools for HIV and evaluate the feasibility of introducing these tools to improve access to HIV testing, as well as linkage to care, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Going mobile - digital healthcare for the developing world

Researchers from UCL, Imperial College London and the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) have been working with different end-users in KwaZulu-Natal to understand how simple paper-based diagnostic tests [lateral flow tests] that use a mobile device for readout, can fit into and help reduce the load on the local healthcare system.
The tools and technologies will allow people to test with more privacy, avoiding the clinic visits they may find difficult, and empower them to manage their own health. 
Using ultra-sensitive techniques and advanced nanomaterials, these tests could detect HIV at the very early stages of infection. This is when transmission is most likely and prevention most important. 

Understanding our end-users

An initial study, based on population surveys carried out by AHRI, highlighted social trends related to the HIV situation in the region. Further to this, an ethics application has been put forward to run focus groups with the local population, and key informant interviews with healthcare workers that will help us gain further information to refine the design of our tools, and understand how they will fit into the HIV testing, prevention and treatment landscape.

Developing our technologies

The m-Africa team are building a library of images (5,000+ images) of the tests currently used by AHRI and are developing an app that will use machine-learning to classify pictures into three categories; positive, negative, and invalid. 

The ultimate aim is for our app to read out HIV test results within minutes and also to interpret already available HIV tests, automatically linking results to a doctor and helping people receive the rapid and regular care that they need.

The p24 lateral flow assay developed within i-sense will soon be piloted at AHRI, using approximately 100 patient samples. 

m-Africa builds on the expertise and pioneering digital health approaches of the i-sense team. These technologies are being developed for HIV in the first instance, but they can be applied across a range of infections and medical conditions and quickly integrated into the community.

The m-Africa team

This project is led by Professor of Biomedical Nanotechnology at UCL and Director of i-sense EPSRC IRC, Professor Rachel McKendry, and Director of AHRI, Professor Deenan Pillay.

The team brings together outstanding clinicians, scientists, engineers and public health researchers from UCL, Imperial, and AHRI with the primary goal of improving HIV management, care and prevention at the global epicentre of HIV. 

For more information about the m-Africa project, please contact Erin Manning on erin.manning@ucl.ac.uk

Academic staff

Professor Deenan Pillay
Executive Director, AHRI

Professor Rachel McKendry
Professor of Biomedical Nanotechnology and Director of i-sense, UCL

Dr Pam Sonnenberg
Reader in Infectious Disease Epidemiology, UCL 

Professor Ann Blandford
Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, UCL

Dr Maryam Shahmanesh
Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV research, UCL 

Professor Molly Stevens
Professor of Biomedical Materials and Regenerative Medicine and Research Director for Biomedical Material Sciences in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College London

Dr Kobus Herbst
Chief Information Officer, AHRI

Professor Claudia Estcourt
Clinical Professor of Sexual Health and HIV, Glasgow Caledonian University

Research associates

Dr Valerian Turbe, UCL
Postdoctoral Research Associate, UCL

Dr Michael Thomas
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Imperial College London 

Carina Herbst
Research Study Coordinator, AHRI 

Dr Oluwafemi Adeagbo
Senior Social Scientist, AHRI

Nondumiso Dlamini
Social Science Research-Assistant Supervisor, AHRI

Thembani Mhlongo
Social Science Research-Assistant, AHRI

Affiliated researchers 

Eleanor Gray
Postdoctoral Research Associate, UCL

Jobie Budd 
PhD Student, UCL

Colleen Loynachan 
PhD Student, Imperial College London

Support staff 

Dr Ben Pierce
Research Coordinator, Imperial College London

Erin Manning
i-sense Communications and Admin Officer, UCL

Dr Deborah Farmer 
Scientific Officer (Research Strategy), AHRI

Jo McHugh 
Project Manager, UCL 

Dr Matt Lougher 
Senior Lab Manager, UCL

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