At the Brighton Sauna a digital vending machine which dispenses free HIV self-test kits has received a national award for designers and health experts. The winning group was made up from staff and students at the University of Brighton, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, the design consultancy Diptico and the Martin Fisher Foundation, a local charity working towards zero new HIV infections and zero HIV stigma. The world-first touch-screen invention won the highly prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) 2018 Innovation Award. The team managed to come top in a competition of 3,500 applicants in 15 categories with each category having six finalists.
The BMJ Awards are the UK’s premier medical awards programme. Now in their tenth year, they aim recognise and celebrate the inspirational work done by doctors and their teams. Their goal is to improve patient outcomes and showcase the best healthcare in the UK. The Martin Fisher Foundation, one aspect of the winning team, received funding from Public Health England as part of the 2016 HIV Prevention Innovation Fund for the vending machine pilot which started in June 2017. It has since distributed over 300 tests and the project has been evaluated with 95 per cent of recipients saying they would recommend this type of testing to others. The success of the project has been credited to the collaborations between HIV clinicians Dr Jaime Vera, Dr Gillian Dean, and Dr Suneeta Soni, designers/researchers Dr Carlos Peralta and Dr Liliana Rodriguez, and researchers Dr Carrie Llewellyn and Alex Pollard, and sauna staff.
When speaking about the project, Dr Liliana Rodriguez, a services design expert from the design consultancy Díptico and affiliated to the Martin Fisher Foundation, said the development of the project was underpinned by workshops with members of the LGTB community. Senior Lecturer in Design in the University of Brighton’s School of Architecture & Design, Dr Peralta, also said “This award demonstrates how positive interdisciplinary collaboration between designers and health experts can be, and how design can be employed in projects geared toward social benefit. The project will be included in the Compendium of Good HIV Practices in the World Health Organisation European Region. We are also currently developing two other related projects, a campaign to increase HIV testing in GP practices, and a digital campaign to eliminate HIV stigma.”
It was highlighted in the statements which followed the win that men should get tested at least once a year. Brighton & Hove has an estimated 2,500 HIV positive people but there is at least 11, 500 others who could be prone to HIV that still need testing. In 2016, about 4000 were tested through conventional services and “third sector organisations” but that still leaves 7,500 people potentially untested. Professor Matteo Santin, one of the many leaders in the project said the win was fantastic and further congratulated the team, he elaborated “the award recognises the impact that our research and enterprise for health has on our communities. It is wholly deserved and makes us all very proud to see this happening through the interdisciplinary collaboration between our University and the Medical School.
Dr Gillian Dean, trustee of the Martin Fisher Foundation and project lead, said: “Ten per cent of people with HIV are unaware of their infection – this technology gives us the opportunity to reach these individuals and move towards elimination of HIV within the next generation.”
The Brighton Sauna is visited by around 400 men every week and in the research it was highlighted as a place with high sexual risk but low outreach for HIV services. “Uptake during the pilot (approximately 35 tests per month) was greater than from community outreach workers prior to the machine being installed (4.5 tests per month). We don’t know if the kits have actually been used, or what the results are, but we’re working on a second generation kit with smart packaging that will tell us when it’s been opened.”
Dr Dean, who also worked on the project said, “the second generation of machines are ready to be rolled out across the city with the aim of ensuring everyone is aware of their HIV status. Only then can we move towards zero new HIV infections.”