Pilot and Feasibility Studies

Is it possible to recruit HIV self-test users for an anonymous phone-based survey using passive recruitment without financial incentives? Lessons learned from a pilot study in Côte d’Ivoire



Arlette Simo Fotso, Arsène Kouassi Kra, Mathieu Maheu-Giroux, Sokhna Boye, Marc d’Elbée, Odette Ky-zerbo, Nicolas Rouveau, Noel Kouassi N’Guessan, Olivier Geoffroy, Anthony Vautier & Joseph Larmarange for the ATLAS Team



Due to the discreet and private nature of HIV self-testing (HIVST), it is particularly challenging to monitor and assess the impacts of this testing strategy. To overcome this challenge, we conducted a study in Côte d’Ivoire to characterize the profile of end users of HIVST kits distributed through the ATLAS project (AutoTest VIH, Libre d’Accéder à la connaissance de son Statut). Feasibility was assessed using a pilot phone-based survey.


The ATLAS project aims to distribute 221300 HIVST kits in Côte d’Ivoire from 2019 to 2021 through both primary (e.g., direct distribution to primary users) and secondary distribution (e.g., for partner testing). The pilot survey used a passive recruitment strategy—whereby participants voluntarily called a toll-free survey phone number—to enrol participants. The survey was promoted through a sticker on the HIVST instruction leaflet and hotline invitations and informal promotion by HIVST kit-dispensing agents. Importantly, participation was not financially incentivized, even though surveys focussed on key populations usually use incentives in this context.


After a 7-month period in which 25,000 HIVST kits were distributed, only 42 questionnaires were completed. Nevertheless, the survey collected data from users receiving HIVST kits via both primary and secondary distribution (69% and 31%, respectively).


This paper provides guidance on how to improve the design of future surveys of this type. It discusses the need to financial incentivize participation, to reorganize the questionnaire, the importance of better informing and training stakeholders involved in the distribution of HIVST, and the use of flyers to increase the enrolment of users reached through secondary distribution.