Invitation plus tracing increases male partner testing during pregnancy

Recruiting male partners for couple HIV testing and counselling in Malawi's option B+ programme: an unblinded randomised controlled trial.

Rosenberg NE, Mtande TK, Saidi F, Stanley C, Jere E, Paile L, Kumwenda K, Mofolo I, Ng'ambi W, Miller WC, Hoffman I, Hosseinipour M. Lancet HIV. 2015 Nov;2(11):e483-91. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(15)00182-4. Epub 2015 Oct 22.

Background: Couples HIV testing and counselling (CHTC) is encouraged but is not widely done in sub-Saharan Africa. We aimed to compare two strategies for recruiting male partners for CHTC in Malawi's option B+ prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme: invitation only versus invitation plus tracing and postulated that invitation plus tracing would be more effective.

Methods: We did an unblinded, randomised, controlled trial assessing uptake of CHTC in the antenatal unit at Bwaila District Hospital, a maternity hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. Women were eligible if they were pregnant, had just tested HIV-positive and therefore could initiate antiretroviral therapy, had not yet had CHTC, were older than 18 years or 16-17 years and married, reported a male sex partner in Lilongwe, and intended to remain in Lilongwe for at least 1 month. Women were randomly assigned (1:1) to either the invitation only group or the invitation plus tracing group with block randomisation (block size=4). In the invitation only group, women were provided with an invitation for male partners to present to the antenatal clinic. In the invitation plus tracing group, women were provided with the same invitation, and partners were traced if they did not present. When couples presented they were offered pregnancy information and CHTC. Women were asked to attend a follow-up visit 1 month after enrolment to assess social harms and sexual behaviour. The primary outcome was the proportion of couples who presented to the clinic together and received CHTC during the study period and was assessed in all randomly assigned participants. This study is registered with, number NCT02139176.

Findings: Between March 4, 2014, and Oct 3, 2014, 200 HIV-positive pregnant women were enrolled and randomly assigned to either the invitation only group (n=100) or the invitation plus tracing group (n=100). 74 couples in the invitation plus tracing group and 52 in the invitation only group presented to the clinic and had CHTC (risk difference 22%, 95% CI 9-35; p=0.001) during the 10 month study period. Of 181 women with follow-up data, two reported union dissolution, one reported emotional distress, and none reported intimate partner violence. One male partner, when traced, was confused about which of his sex partners was enrolled in the study. No other adverse events were reported.

Interpretation: An invitation plus tracing strategy was highly effective at increasing CHTC uptake. Invitation plus tracing with CHTC could have many substantial benefits if brought to scale.

Abstract access [1]

Editor’s notes: A major challenge to the Option B+ prevention of mother-to-child-transmission programme is retaining women in HIV care. Lack of male partner support may be an important barrier to retention. Couples HIV testing and counselling (CHTC) can increase mutual disclosure, enhance behavioural HIV prevention, and ultimately improve maternal, child and male partner health outcomes.  However, uptake of CHTC in antenatal settings remains low throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa. This randomised controlled trial illustrates that combining an invitation for the male partner to present to the antenatal clinic with active tracing of the partner by the study team greatly increased uptake of CHTC. A unique feature of the programme was that the invitation and tracing messages focused on general health during pregnancy, rather than on HIV, which may have improved acceptability. Even in the invitation alone arm, over half of the male partners presented for CHTC. Both strategies found that over half the men who tested were HIV positive, and the majority were unaware of their status. Women in the invitation plus tracing arm had higher retention in the Option B+ programme at one month than individuals in the invitation alone arm, and were more likely to report safer sex behaviour. 

Although provider-based strategies for increasing couples testing are more expensive than patient-based strategies, they may be very cost-effective in settings of high HIV prevalence where few men are aware of their HIV status. Interestingly, most gains in partner uptake from tracing were a result of telephone contact, which is relatively low cost. Longer term follow-up is necessary to assess whether increases in retention are maintained over time but the results demonstrate the potential for provider-based strategies for increasing CHTC to help achieve UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.

Africa [9]
Malawi [10]
  • [11]