Estimating HIV self-testing positivity rate and linkage to confirmatory testing and care: a telephone survey in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal
Arsène Kra Kouassi, Arlette Simo Fotso, Nicolas Rouveau, Mathieu Maheu-Giroux, Marie-Claude Boily, Romain Silhol, Marc d’Elbée, Anthony Vautier, Joseph Larmarange
HIV self-testing (HIVST) empowers individuals and allow them to decide when/where to test and with whom to share their result.
Between 2019 and 2022, the ATLAS program distributed 400 000 HIVST kits in a mixed epidemic context (Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal), prioritizing key populations, including female sex workers (FSW) and men who have sex with men (MSM), and encouraged secondary distribution of HIVST to their partners, peers and FSW clients.
To preserve its confidential nature, distributed HIVST kits were not systematically tracked. An anonymous phone survey was implemented among its users to estimate test positivity rates and linkage to confirmatory testing and care.
We conducted a two-step survey. Between March and June 2021, participants were recruited using dedicated leaflets distributed with HIVST kits, inviting users to call a free phone number anonymously (participation was rewarded USD $3.40) and to complete a sociobehavioural questionnaire (phase 1), including the self-reported number of visible lines on their HIVST kits and their interpretation of results.
In September and October 2021, participants who reported a reactive HIVST result in phase 1 and agreed to be re-contacted were recalled to complete a short questionnaire (phase 2) on linkage to confirmatory testing and care.
During phase 1, 2 615 participants were recruited: 2 346 (89.7%) reported a consistent HIVST result (2 visible lines and result interpreted as reactive; one line and interpreted as non-reactive; or no/one line and interpreted as invalid), 48 (1.8%) reported an inconsistent result and 221 (8.5%) did not know (DK) how to interpret their result or refused to answer.
HIVST positivity rates ranged from 2.4% to 4.5%, depending on different assumptions (self-interpreted result or reported number of lines, inclusion or exclusion of DK and refusals). Among men who received an HIVST through activities targeting MSM, positivity rates ranged from 3.2% to 4.8%, and from 2.2% to 4.2% for women reached through activities targeting FSW.
Among 126 phase 1 participants eligible for phase 2, 120 agreed to be re-contacted, and 78 fully completed the phase 2 questionnaire. Among the 27 who reported a consistent reactive result in the phase 1 questionnaire, 15 (56%, 95%CI: 36-74%) linked to confirmatory test, including 12 (80%) confirmed HIV-positive, which all started treatment (100%). Linkage was lower among those who reported an inconsistent result in phase 1(37%, 95%CI: 24-52%).
Among those confirming reactive self-tests, 53% did it in less than one week following self-testing, and 91% in less than three months. Two-thirds (65%) went to a general public facility and one-third to a facility dedicated to key populations.
Our HIVST distribution strategy successfully reached people living with HIV in West Africa. Linkage to confirmatory testing remained sub-optimal in these first years of HIVST implementation. However, if confirmed HIV-positive, almost all initiated treatment. The majority of those who linked to confirmatory testing went to a general facility, suggesting that HIVST has the potential to reach more discrete populations. HIVST constitutes a complementary tool to existing screening services.