Team behind HIV test vending machine wins praise

A digital vending machine which dispenses free HIV self-test kits in Brighton has won a national award.

Winning team left to right Dr Peralta, Dr Rodriguez, Dr Vera, Dr Soni, Dr Dean and Dr Llewellyn SUS-180530-173948001
Winning team left to right Dr Peralta, Dr Rodriguez, Dr Vera, Dr Soni, Dr Dean and Dr Llewellyn SUS-180530-173948001

The machine was created in order to encourage people to take HIV tests as part of a ‘move towards elimination of HIV within the next generation’.

Since the vending machine was installed in Brighton Sauna last year, it has distributed more than 300 tests.

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The project, which was funded by Public Health England, was a collaboration between the University of Brighton, Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), design consultancy Díptico and HIV charity the Martin Fisher Foundation.

HIV self test vending machine SUS-180530-173938001

Designers and health experts involved in the creation of the vending machine won praise at the British Medical Journal (BMJ) 2018 awards.

Dr Vera, senior lecturer in HIV medicine at BSMS, said: “One of the Foundation’s strategic goals is to ensure everyone in Brighton and 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 and 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.”

The project’s success has been credited to collaboration between HIV clinicians, designers and researchers.

Dr Peralta, senior lecturer in design at the University of Brighton, 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.

“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.”