Rural Ethiopia is home to large populations of nomadic farming communities who travel the countryside herding livestock. These communities give little consideration to preventitive or safety measures against sexually transmitted infections which has lead to significant health issues. This is not an issue of irresponsibility, it is simply a lack of education and understanding. There is very little awareness of HPV, cervical cancer and other sexually transmitted diseases in these areas and this leads to high contraction rates.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the preeminent etiologic agent of cervical cancer, the second most prevalent cancer in women. HIV causes the pandemic disease AIDS. An HPV-HIV co-infection is devastating as both viruses feed off each other and hasten the occurrence of disease and death.
Research professor Gebremeskel Hidat of Aksum University in Ethiopia is working with women in these nomadic rurual populations to test and treat them for HPV. His team move from site to site taking samples and educating communities on the risks and prevention strategies.
“Our people are mobile, moving from site to site, however there are still no HPV vaccination and screening programs, and only one public hospital has a cervical cancer referral treatment facility”, says Gebremeskel.
Because of the lack of screening programs, Gebremeskel and his team must go out, take individual samples and then undergo qPCR testing in a central lab to get a positive or negative diagnosis. By the time they have results ready to deliver to the patients and begin treatment, the community has moved on and it is very difficult to actually find them again.
Gebremeskel has recognised the need for real time diagnosis that allows samples to be tested out in these communities and courses of treatment to begin before the tribe moves on and the patient is lost. Point of care testing would increase the number of women being successfully treated and hopefully decrease the rate of spread throughout the communities of Ethiopia.
Ubiquitome is running a grants program for research groups who would benefit from a mobile qPCR device. Gebremeskel Hidat has been chosen as one of the finalists. To find out more about the program and view the other finalists, visit the website here.