AIDS Messes With the Wrong Engineer

    What do you do if both of your parents die of AIDS?

    You mourn, obviously. And you wonder why the universe singled you out for such harsh treatment. Maybe you get mad. There isn’t much else you can do.

    Unless you’re an engineer. Then you change the world. Because you can.

    But you might need another engineer to help. Changing the world often takes at least two engineers.

    Christopher Alegeka (BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from Berkeley) is taking a big swing at AIDS, with co-founder and CEO Anwaar Al-Zireeni (BS, and a MEng in Bioengineering from Berkeley). Al-Zireeni invented the technology (patent pending) for an inexpensive AIDS testing device that could be a serious game-changer.

    See Tamra Teig’s blog post here for more about the device and the company.

    The start-up’s modest claim is that their simple, portable device can test for AIDS as easily as a home pregnancy test. That’s a big deal when more than half of the people with HIV in third-world locations don’t know they have it. And it also makes a huge difference if you start treating the virus as soon as you detect it. That can be a life-and-death difference in timing.

    Third-world countries generally have poor medical facilities, or none nearby, so traditional tests for HIV are impractical and expensive in the places where it is needed most. This new testing device could get the cost per test under $10. And that is almost the same as putting a price tag on the end of the AIDS. (Isn’t it?)

    Testing has limitations, obviously. No matter how easy it is to test, there will always be personal and social reasons to avoid doing so. But I wonder how many of those obstacles melt away when the device is easy to use, readily available, completely private, and funded by someone else (such as a government or Bill Gates).

    By analogy, lots of folks do home pregnancy tests but far fewer would book a doctor’s appointment every time they needed to check.

    The two engineers in my story formed a company called Privail. They hope to start testing their device where it is needed most, in sub-Saharan Africa, in 2016.

    What did you do today? It was probably less awesome than that.

    Disclosure: I have no investment in Privail (as of this writing) but I am active in the Berkeley start-up community as an alum. Assume I am biased for Berkeley-related start-ups. 

    I don’t give investment advice, and you should never take advice from cartoonists on anything important. But as a statement of fact, Privail is looking for seed funding. I don’t know enough about the company to have an opinion on their odds of success. 

    Scott Adams