Objectives: To examine factors affecting readiness for and acceptability of voluntary HIV counselling and testing (VCT).
Methods: Participants in a population-based HIV survey conducted in an urban population in Zambia in 1996 were offered VCT. Although 29% of them expressed interest in being tested (readiness), only 4% of this group used the services (i.e. acceptability). When the survey was repeated 3 years later, VCT was designed differently to assess acceptability. At the cluster level the participants were randomly allocated to VCT either at the local clinic (similar to 1996, n = 1102) or at an optional location (n = 1343).
Results: Readiness varied significantly by age group (47% in age group 20-24 years vs. 18% in age group 40-49 years). There were contrasts between young (15-24 years) and older age groups (25-49 years) regarding the main factors associated with readiness. Whereas self-perceived risk of being HIV infected was the only significant factor among the young, poor self-rated health and ever HIV tested were important factors among the older. The acceptability was 11.8% among the group allocated to VCT at the local clinic compared with 55.8% for the group allocated to an optional location (RR, 4.7).
Conclusions: Perceived risk of HIV infection had a major influence on VCT readiness among young people, whereas declining general health status, as indicated by self-rated health, was most evident among those of older age. A strong effect of placement on acceptability of VCT was demonstrated, indicating this barrier to be important in explaining low demands for VCT in the past. Differences in perceptions of how confidentiality is handled at the two locations might be an important underlying factor.