Seven British organizations are collaborating on a tool that will allow a cellphone to diagnose sexually transmitted infections.
The device, which has received £4 million (approx US $6 million) of funding, would work on similar lines to a pregnancy test. It would be a computer chip with a casing that included a sensor, on to which the user would either urinate or provide a saliva sample. The device could then be plugged in to a phone or computer and analyze the sample before telling the user if they have any conditions and, if so, provide details of nearby clinics that can provide further diagnosis treatment.
The idea is that the single-use device would be priced cheaply, perhaps around the £1 ($1.60) mark, so that it could be sold in vending machines alongside condoms. It would be designed to appeal to people who felt uneasy about visiting a doctor or a sexual health clinic, as well as those who had engaged in risky behavior but didn’t have any noticeable symptoms and thus wouldn’t consider it worth going for a full check-up.
The groups behind the device believe there’s a good fit between the age of people most comfortable with cellphone and computer use, and the age of people most at risk. In the United Kingdom last year, two-thirds of all women and half of all men reporting a new sexually transmitted infection were under 25.
The device wouldn’t cover all conditions that can be transferred via sexual activity. Some, such as HIV and hepatitis, can only be tested for via a blood sample.
In one of the greatest examples of understatement I’ve ever seen, Dr Tariq Sadiq, who is leading the project, said “The required technology is very close to becoming a reality. But there are other issues we need to address before we can use the devices in the community – confidentiality and data protection, for example, are supremely important.”
That would appear to rule out an idea I had for a Facebook app in which you note all the members you have had sexual contact with (and the system then notes the complete network of who has slept with who), and then if you are diagnosed with an infection Facebook could anonymously inform everyone who might now want to consider a check-up.