Without significant increases in uptake of HIV testing among men, it will be difficult to reduce HIV incidence to disease elimination levels. Secondary distribution of HIV self-tests by women to their male partners is a promising approach for increasing male testing that is being implemented in several countries. Here, we examine male partner and couples testing outcomes and sexual decision making associated with this approach in a cluster randomized trial.
We examined data from women at higher risk of HIV participating in the intervention arm of an ongoing pair-matched cluster randomized trial in Kenya. HIV-negative women ≥18 years who self-reported ≥2 partners in the past month were eligible. Participants received self-tests at enrolment and three-monthly intervals. They were encouraged to offer tests to sexual partners with whom they anticipated condomless sex. At six months, we collected data on self-test distribution, male partner and couples testing, and testing and sexual behaviour in the three most recent transactional sex encounters. We used descriptive analyses and generalized estimating equation models to understand how sexual behaviour was influenced by self-test distribution.
From January 2018 to April 2019, 921/1057 (87%) participants completed six-month follow-up. Average age was 28 years, 65% were married, and 72% reported income through sex work. Participants received 7283 self-tests over six months, a median of eight per participant. Participants offered a median three self-tests to sexual partners. Of participants with a primary partner, 94% offered them a self-test. Of these, 97% accepted the test. When accepted, couples testing was reported among 91% of participants. Among 1954 transactional sex encounters, 64% included an offer to self-test. When offered self-tests were accepted by 93% of partners, and 84% who accepted conducted couples testing. Compared to partners with an HIV-negative result, condom use was higher when men had a reactive result (56.3% vs. 89.7%, p < 0.01), were not offered a self-test (56.3% vs. 62.0%, p = 0.02), or refused to self-test (56.3% vs. 78.3, p < 0.01).
Providing women with multiple self-tests facilitated male partner and couples testing, and led to safer sexual behaviour. These findings suggest secondary distribution is a promising approach for reaching men and has HIV prevention potential.