Closing the HIV testing gap with partner-delivered self-testing

Promoting partner testing and couples testing through secondary distribution of HIV self-tests: a randomized clinical trial.

Masters SH, Agot K, Obonyo B, Napierala Mavedzenge S, Maman S, Thirumurthy H. PLoS Med. 2016 Nov 8;13(11):e1002166. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002166. eCollection 2016.

Background: Achieving higher rates of partner HIV testing and couples testing among pregnant and postpartum women in sub-Saharan Africa is essential for the success of combination HIV prevention, including the prevention of mother-to-child transmission. We aimed to determine whether providing multiple HIV self-tests to pregnant and postpartum women for secondary distribution is more effective at promoting partner testing and couples testing than conventional strategies based on invitations to clinic-based testing.

Methods and findings: We conducted a randomized trial in Kisumu, Kenya, between June 11, 2015, and January 15, 2016. Six hundred antenatal and postpartum women aged 18-39 y were randomized to an HIV self-testing (HIVST) group or a comparison group. Participants in the HIVST group were given two oral-fluid-based HIV test kits, instructed on how to use them, and encouraged to distribute a test kit to their male partner or use both kits for testing as a couple. Participants in the comparison group were given an invitation card for clinic-based HIV testing and encouraged to distribute the card to their male partner, a routine practice in many health clinics. The primary outcome was partner testing within 3 mo of enrollment. Among 570 participants analyzed, partner HIV testing was more likely in the HIVST group (90.8%, 258/284) than the comparison group (51.7%, 148/286; difference = 39.1%, 95% CI 32.4% to 45.8%, p < 0.001). Couples testing was also more likely in the HIVST group than the comparison group (75.4% versus 33.2%, difference = 42.1%, 95% CI 34.7% to 49.6%, p < 0.001). No participants reported intimate partner violence due to HIV testing. This study was limited by self-reported outcomes, a common limitation in many studies involving HIVST due to the private manner in which self-tests are meant to be used.

Conclusions: Provision of multiple HIV self-tests to women seeking antenatal and postpartum care was successful in promoting partner testing and couples testing. This approach warrants further consideration as countries develop HIVST policies and seek new ways to increase awareness of HIV status among men and promote couples testing.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT02386215.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: Despite scale-up of HIV testing services, two in every five people living with HIV remain undiagnosed. World Health Organization (WHO) has just issued updated guidance on HIV testing services (HTS). In an effort to plug this testing gap, it strengthened the recommendation that HIV self-testing (HIVST) should be offered as one of the approaches to HTS. This paper adds to the body of evidence supporting that recommendation and provides more insight into the specific role of partner-delivered self-testing.     

There are challenges with conducting clinical trials of HIVST, one of which is selecting an appropriate outcome measure. In this trial, the primary outcome was participant report of male partner testing within three months of enrolment. Overall, uptake of male partner testing as reported by the participants was surprisingly high. It is worth noting that the participants and their partners may not have been particularly hard-to-reach groups. Almost all were married. The female participants were frequent testers. On average, they had tested three times in the past year. Most participants also reported that their male partner had tested at least once in the past year. It should also be noted that many women that were screened chose not to participate, so the participants may have to some extent pre-selected themselves as more interested and more likely to benefit from the activity.   

There were very few male partners reported as testing HIV positive during follow-up. This study was not able to determine how effectively people linked to care after HIVST. This is one of a number of research questions that remain around the delivery and impact of HIVST. Many of these are being addressed by the large HIV Self-Testing Africa (STAR) Project (http://hivstar.lshtm.ac.uk/). What seems to be beyond debate now though is that HIVST can and should play a role in helping us to achieve the UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target.   

Africa
Kenya
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