Ms. Chatelaine: Jessica Ching, creator of an at-home HPV test

The industrial designer didn’t need a medical degree to invent Eve Kit, a device that allows women to test for chlamydia, gonorrhea and HPV.

Jessica Ching, creator of an at-home HPV test
Photo, Sian Richards.

Age: 32
Occupation: Co-founder and chief executive officer of Eve Medical
Hometown: Sarnia, Ont.
Loves: Podcasts; discovering new foods; her cat, Bumbum

Very few people enjoy visiting the gynecologist: the stirrups, the cold speculum, the swabbing. Jessica Ching knew this, but she didn’t realize just how many women outright avoid going for Pap tests until she was on a coffee date many years ago with a few close friends. Most had never had one, even though they’d been sexually active for years. “It comes down to ‘It’s really awkward,’ ” she says. “That’s such a bad reason to not do something that could potentially save your life.” So Ching set out to design a self-testing kit for chlamydia, gonorrhea and HPV (a potential cause of cervical cancer), eliminating the need for a doctor’s visit.

Ching, who studied political science and international development at McGill University before heading to Toronto’s OCAD University to study industrial design, devoted her final thesis project at OCAD to women’s health, and—along with her research partner, Nancy Seto — spent months interviewing sources about their Pap experiences. Unsurprisingly, the speculum was widely reviled, but the pair discovered more systemic barriers that limit women’s access to clinics, like not having a family doctor, adequate child care or, frankly, time. “A third of Canadian women don’t get screened regularly,” Ching says.

Related: HPV vaccine reduces cervical abnormalities in young women

Ching designed the Eve Kit, a device that resembles a tampon with a handle and allows women to take their own samples at home. In school, the test was just a prototype, but with encouragement from her former thesis supervisor, Ching co-founded Eve Medical in 2010 with her husband, Evan, as a way to market her invention. This summer, the $85 kit — now approved by Health Canada and deemed a “viable option for overcoming [barriers] to STI screening” by researchers at McMaster University — will be available for pre-order on Indiegogo. Women can then mail their swabs to Eve Medical, where the company’s lab will process the tests and post the results online (under a private account) within a week. Don’t have a doctor? Eve Medical’s partner physicians can explain the diagnosis over the phone.

Ching’s goal is to test five million women globally within five years and allow doctors to focus more on patient counselling and follow-up care. “We don’t want to be separate from the health care system,” she says. “We want to be a complement that helps bring people back into the fold.” Ching, dubbed the “creative one” in a family of scientists, admits that starting her own company has been challenging, but her drive to make a difference continues to push her forward. “If I thought this was frivolous,” Ching says, “I would’ve given up a long time ago.”

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