A world-first touch-screen digital vending machine which dispenses free HIV self-test kits at the Brighton Sauna has received a national award.
The machine was the initiative of designers and health experts at the University of Brighton School of Architecture and Design, Brighton & Sussex Medical School, the design consultancy Díptico and the Martin Fisher Foundation, a local charity working towards zero new HIV infections, and zero HIV stigma.
The team won the highly prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) 2018 Innovation Award which attracted 3,500 applicants in 15 categories, each category having six finalists.
The BMJ Awards, now in their 10th year, are the UK’s premier medical awards programme, recognising and celebrating the inspirational work done by doctors and their teams. Their mission is to improve patient outcomes and showcase the best healthcare in the UK.
The Martin Fisher Foundation 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.
Its success has been credited to collaboration 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.
Dr Peralta, Senior Lecturer in Design in the University of Brighton’s School of Architecture & Design, 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.”
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.”
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.
Professor Matteo Santin, academic lead for Healthy Futures, one of five themes for cross-cutting research and enterprise across the University of Brighton, said: “This is fantastic news and many congratulations to the team. 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 Vera, senior lecturer in HIV medicine at BSMS, said: “One of the Foundation’s strategic goals is to ensure everyone in Brighton & Hove is aware of their HIV status and specifically all sexually active men who have sex with men (MSM) test for HIV at least once per year.
“Brighton & Hove is home to an estimated 14,000 MSM, of whom 2,500 are already HIV positive. That leaves 11,500 needing an HIV test. In 2016 about 4,000 were tested through conventional services and third sector organisations, leaving 7,500 potentially untested. Men can be reluctant to use mainstream services and self-testing might reach those missing men, particularly if they could access kits from a vending machine in a place they frequent.
“The Brighton Sauna, visited by around 400 men a week, was one such place where staff were aware of high levels of sexual risk taking but low levels of engagement with outreach workers to discuss HIV testing.
“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 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.”
For more on Dr Peralta, go to: http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/staff/carlos-peralta