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PATH-HIV-1 screening assay, Washington, United States, 1991

Identifying the presence of HIV antigens in a sample of blood plasma or serum can prevent the transmission of HIV through blood transfusions. This plastic ‘dipstick’ test was cheaper and faster than other tests available in 1991. The ‘dipstick’ test also had the advantage of being simple to use and did not require a laboratory or a specially trained technician. Crucially, countries in the developing world could afford to manufacture and use the test. The Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) is an organisation founded in 1977 to develop appropriate technologies for public health programmes in the developing world.

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    Glossary: HIV test

    HIV tests are used to detect the presence of the human immunodeficiency virus in serum, saliva, or urine. There usually a window time of 22 days (average) between infection and the time that the test can detect infection. There are a wide variety of types of test.

    Glossary: antigen

    A substance that stimulates an immune response when introduced into the body.

    Glossary: blood transfusion

    An injection of healthy, donated blood into a patient to raise his or her number of red blood cells. The blood is matched according to type (A, B, O, AB).

    Glossary: HIV

    Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that weakens vital cells in the immune system, and leads to AIDS. There are two strands: HIV-1, which leads to immunity suppression; and HIV-2, which is not as potent and is only common in West Africa. HIV is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids.

    Glossary: plasma

    The liquid component of blood, in which the blood cells are suspended. Plasma makes up around 55 per cent of blood's total volume.