HIV self-testing: breaking the barriers to uptake of testingamong men and adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa, experiencesfrom STAR demonstration projects in Malawi, Zambia andZimbabwe

HIV/TB Research 30 Jul 2023

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Introduction: Social, structural and systems barriers inhibit uptake of HIV testing. HIV self-testing (HIVST) has shown promising uptake by otherwise underserved priority groups including men, young people and first-time testers. Here, we use characteristics of HIVST kit recipients to investigate delivery to these priority groups during HIVST scale-up in three African countries.

Methods: Kit distributors collected individual-level age, sex and testing history from all clients. These data were aggregated and analysed by country (Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe) for five distribution models: local community-based distributor (CBD: door-to-door, street and local venues), workplace distribution (WD), integration into HIV testing services (IHTS), or public health facilities (IPHF) and during demand creation for voluntary male medical circumcision (VMMC). Used kits were collected and re-read from CBD and IHTS recipients.

Results: Between May 2015 and July 2017, 628,705 HIVST kits were distributed in Malawi (172,830), Zambia (190,787) and Zimbabwe (265,091). Community-based models, the first to be established, accounted for 519,658 (82.7%) of kits distributed, with 275,419 (53.0%) used kits returned. Subsequent model diversification delivered 54,453 (8.7%) test-kits through IHTS, 23,561 (3.7%) through VMMC, 21,183 (3.4%) through IPHF and 9850 (1.7%) through WD. Men took 294,508 (48.2%) kits, and 263,073 (43.1%) went to young people (16 to 24 years). A higher proportion of male self-testers (65,577; 22.3%) were first-time testers than women (54,096; 17.1%) with this apparent in Zimbabwe (16.2% vs. 11.4%), Zambia (25.4% vs. 17.7%) and Malawi (27.9% vs. 25.9%). The highest proportions of first-time testers were in young (16 to 24 years) and older (>50 years) men (country-ranges: 18.7% to 35.9% and 13.8% to 26.8% respectively). Most IHTS clients opted for HIVST in preference to standard HTS in each of 12 delivery sites, with those selecting HIVST having lower HIV prevalence, potentially due to self-selection.

Conclusions: HIVST delivered at scale using several different models reached a high proportion of men, young people and first-time testers in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, some of whom may not have tested otherwise. As men and young people have limited uptake under standard facility-and community-based HIV testing, innovative male- and youth-sensitive approaches like HIVST may be essential to reaching UNAIDS fast-track targets for 2020.