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St. Louis University Researcher Wins $2.3M NIH Grant to Develop HIV Self-Testing Strategy

NEW YORK (360Dx) — The National Institutes of Health has awarded a Saint Louis University researcher a $2.3 million grant to develop an HIV self-testing strategy for at-risk youths in Nigeria.

With the funding, Saint Louis University's Juliet Iwelunmor — along with collaborators at the Nigerian Institute for Medical Research; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and New York University School of Medicine — aim to develop a strategy called Innovative Tools to Expand HIV Self-Testing, or I-TEST, that will increase demand for and access to HIV self-testing.

"Young people in Nigeria typically have lower healthcare access and lower HIV testing than other age groups, yet they experience increasing HIV incidence rates, high HIV prevalence, and undiagnosed HIV infections," Iwelunmor said in a statement. "HIV self-testing decentralizes HIV testing by allowing an individual to collect their own test specimen, perform a test and interpret the result, often in a private setting, either alone or with someone he or she trusts."

To create I-TEST, the researchers will reference HIV-prevention initiatives that have been successfully implemented in other nations through open challenges and tailoring them to the needs of Nigerian youths. Two strategies will be developed and evaluated by a local steering committee for their effectiveness and ability to enhance other HIV-prevention services among at-risk, HIV-negative Nigerians between the ages of 14 and 24. The committee will then select one of the strategies for testing in a randomized study in 24 different areas of Nigeria.

"It is our hope that the I-TEST will reconfigure HIV prevention services drawing on the creativity and power of Nigeria youth, while nurturing their participation in HIV self-testing service design, implementation and evaluation," Iwelunmor added.