Unique needs of gay men in sub-Saharan Africa identified with respondent-driven sampling

Respondent-driven sampling as a recruitment method for men who have sex with men in southern sub-Saharan Africa: a cross-sectional analysis by wave.

Stahlman S, Johnston LG, Yah C, Ketende S, Maziya S, Trapence G, Jumbe V, Sithole B, Mothopeng T, Mnisi Z, Baral S. Sex Transm Infect. 2016 Jun;92(4):292-8. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2015-052184. Epub 2015 Sep 30.

Objectives: Respondent-driven sampling (RDS) is a popular method for recruiting men who have sex with men (MSM). Our objective is to describe the ability of RDS to reach MSM for HIV testing in three southern African nations.

Methods: Data collected via RDS among MSM in Lesotho (N=318), Swaziland (N=310) and Malawi (N=334) were analysed by wave in order to characterise differences in sample characteristics. Seeds were recruited from MSM-affiliated community-based organisations. Men were interviewed during a single study visit and tested for HIV. X2 tests for trend were used to examine differences in the proportions across wave category.

Results: A maximum of 13-19 recruitment waves were achieved in each study site. The percentage of those who identified as gay/homosexual decreased as waves increased in Lesotho (49% to 27%, p<0.01). In Swaziland and Lesotho, knowledge that anal sex was the riskiest type of sex for HIV transmission decreased across waves (39% to 23%, p<0.05, and 37% to 19%, p<0.05). The percentage of participants who had ever received more than one HIV test decreased across waves in Malawi (31% to 12%, p<0.01). In Lesotho and Malawi, the prevalence of testing positive for HIV decreased across waves (48% to 15%, p<0.01 and 23% to 11%, p<0.05). Among those living with HIV, the proportion of those unaware of their status increased across waves in all study sites although this finding was not statistically significant.

Conclusions: RDS that extends deeper into recruitment waves may be a promising method of reaching MSM with varying levels of HIV prevention needs.

Abstract access   [1]

Editor’s notes: The HIV risk profile of gay men and other men who have sex with men have not been well-characterised within sub-Saharan African countries. These key populations are traditionally difficult to reach for purposes of estimating the prevalence of HIV and of behavioural risk factors, and for prevention outreach. This study enrolled recruiters from community based organizations which served gay men and other men who have sex with men in Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland. Each of these ‘seeds’ could recruit up to three participants. Each subsequent participant could recruit another three participants into a new ‘wave’. The profiles of participants changed in each setting with each additional recruitment wave. Men in Swaziland were less likely to know that anal sex was the riskiest type of sex, men in Malawi were less likely to have ever tested for HIV, and men in Lesotho were less likely to have disclosed their sexual orientation to family members. This type of respondent-driven sampling can be replicated to identify men who are removed from community-based organisations, and to identify their unique service needs. Future research can consider whether the hardest-to-reach men are also people at highest risk of HIV infection.

Africa [8]
Lesotho [9], Malawi [10], Swaziland [11]
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