Inexpensive Smartphone Accessory Tests for STDs

A team of researchers from Columbia University have created a smartphone accessory that can test for HIV and syphilis. This could be a weapon in stopping the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially in third world countries.

The accessory is compatible with any smartphone, and costs as little as $34 to manufacture.

The yet-to-be-named tester functions much like the mobile credit card processors now on the market, such as Square and PayPal Here. It plugs into the headphone jack of a smartphone and works with an app on the phone. A person simply pricks his finger and uses a plastic collector to gather a little blood. The plastic collector then transfers the blood to a microfluidic chip, which goes into the dongle already plugged into the phone.

The dongle and the corresponding app work together to assess the blood for HIV antibodies, treponemal-specific antibodies and non-treponemal antibodies for syphilis. This determines if someone has HIV, active syphilis or inactive syphilis. The results appear in about 15 minutes.

The device was used with 96 patients in Rwanda, and nearly all of them said they would recommend it.

“Coupling microfluidics with recent advances in consumer electronics can make certain lab-based diagnostics accessible to almost any population with access to smartphones,” said lead research professor Samuel Sia. “This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the world.”

Sia and his team are now taking the necessary steps to bring the accessory to developing countries.

About John Oldshue

John Oldshue is the creator of He worked for over 15 years in television and won an Emmy award for his reporting. He covers long distance and cell phone topics for SaveOnPhone.