Implementing the distribution of self-test kits through non-healthcare intermediaries has proven effective in encouraging more men to undergo HIV testing, according to a study conducted by researchers at Busitema University.
The lead researcher, Prof Joseph Matovu from the Faculty of Health Sciences, detailed their strategy, which involved engaging fishermen in Buvuma and Kalangala islands, a high-risk group for HIV who are often hesitant to undergo traditional testing.
Despite guidelines recommending testing every three months in these regions, many men avoid healthcare facilities for testing. In the study, Matovu’s team educated and distributed oral self-test kits to 400 men, instructing them to pass on the kits to their peers.
The results showed that over 80% of the eight hundred kits were successfully distributed, with 88.4% of recipients using them correctly.
The researchers propose that if the government were to adopt this approach on a larger scale after further studies, it could significantly boost HIV testing rates among men.
This is particularly important as national data from the Uganda Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (UPHIA) survey reveals a high HIV prevalence among older men, compounded by their generally low health-seeking behavior.
In the studied districts of Buvuma (9.5%) and Kalangala (19.5%), HIV prevalence exceeded the national average of 5.3%. Among the 400 men tested, 31% received a new HIV diagnosis.
Geoffrey Taasi, the program officer for HIV testing services at the Ministry of Health, sees self-testing as an innovative approach that could effectively reach fishing communities and other high-risk populations due to its convenience.
He emphasizes that these findings are timely as they explore more effective ways to engage with fishing communities, and he sees this method as a solution to longstanding challenges associated with testing, such as the risk of violence when receiving a kit from a familiar peer.
In summary, distributing self-test kits through intermediaries has the potential to significantly enhance HIV testing rates among men, especially in high-risk communities like fishing villages. This approach offers a more convenient and accessible testing option.