Showing they care: lay-counsellors, home-based testing and the value of follow-up support

How home HIV testing and counselling with follow-up support achieves high testing coverage and linkage to treatment and prevention: a qualitative analysis from Uganda.

Ware NC, Wyatt MA, Asiimwe S, Turyamureeba B, Tumwesigye E, van Rooyen H, Barnabas RV, Celum CL. J Int AIDS Soc. 2016 Jun 28;19(1):20929. doi: 10.7448/IAS.19.1.20929. eCollection 2016.

Introduction: The successes of HIV treatment scale-up and the availability of new prevention tools have raised hopes that the epidemic can finally be controlled and ended. Reduction in HIV incidence and control of the epidemic requires high testing rates at population levels, followed by linkage to treatment or prevention. As effective linkage strategies are identified, it becomes important to understand how these strategies work. We use qualitative data from The Linkages Study, a recent community intervention trial of community-based testing with linkage interventions in sub-Saharan Africa, to show how lay counsellor home HIV testing and counselling (home HTC) with follow-up support leads to linkage to clinic-based HIV treatment and medical male circumcision services.

Methods: We conducted 99 semi-structured individual interviews with study participants and three focus groups with 16 lay counsellors in Kabwohe, Sheema District, Uganda. The participant sample included both HIV+ men and women (N=47) and HIV-uncircumcised men (N=52). Interview and focus group audio-recordings were translated and transcribed. Each transcript was summarized. The summaries were analyzed inductively to identify emergent themes. Thematic concepts were grouped to develop general constructs and framing propositional statements.

Results: Trial participants expressed interest in linking to clinic-based services at testing, but faced obstacles that eroded their initial enthusiasm. Follow-up support by lay counsellors intervened to restore interest and inspire action. Together, home HTC and follow-up support improved morale, created a desire to reciprocate, and provided reassurance that services were trustworthy. In different ways, these functions built links to the health service system. They worked to strengthen individuals' general sense of capability, while making the idea of accessing services more manageable and familiar, thus reducing linkage barriers.

Conclusions: Home HTC with follow-up support leads to linkage by building "social bridges," interpersonal connections established and developed through repeated face-to-face contact between counsellors and prospective users of HIV treatment and male circumcision services. Social bridges link communities to the service system, inspiring individuals to overcome obstacles and access care.

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Editor’s notes: How can people be encouraged once they have received a positive HIV-test result to link and stay in treatment? This is a crucial question as the momentum for everyone living with HIV to be on antiretroviral therapy grows.  The authors of this paper demonstrate clearly and succinctly the value of personal contact in supporting people to test and the link to care. Lay-counsellors paying visits to people’s homes provided the encouragement to help some people to link to care. The home visits were seen by people visited as a sign that ‘someone cared’.  The personal attention and information provided promoted trust. The visits also created a sense of obligation: the person visited felt they should do something in return to please the counsellor.

Increasing numbers of people living with HIV does not necessarily mean that it is easier for someone coping with a positive-test result to link to care. We should not underestimate the continued burden that an HIV-positive test result places on individuals.  Many barriers remain both to testing and sustaining a link to care. The authors of this paper provide examples of how to overcome some of those barriers. However, while this paper provides encouraging findings on the value of the home-based activity, the findings also pose a challenge. Can such follow-up support services, which demand more than a single visit, be provided widely enough to benefit all people who need such attention and support? 

Africa
Uganda
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