Introduction This systematic narrative review examined the empirical evidence on the effectiveness of mobile health (mHealth) behavioural interventions designed to increase the uptake of HIV testing among vulnerable and key populations. Methods MEDLINE/PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and Global Health electronic databases were searched. Studies were eligible for inclusion if they were published between 2005 and 2015, evaluated an mHealth intervention, and reported an outcome relating to HIV testing. We also reviewed the bibliographies of retrieved studies for other relevant citations. The methodological rigor of selected articles was assessed, and narrative analyses were used to synthesize findings from mixed methodologies. Results A total of seven articles met the inclusion criteria. Most mHealth interventions employed a text-messaging feature and were conducted in middle- and high-income countries. The methodological rigor was moderate among studies. The current literature suggests that mHealth interventions can have significant positive effects on HIV testing initiation among vulnerable and key populations, as well as the general public. In some cases, null results were observed. Qualitative themes relating to the use of mobile technologies to increase HIV testing included the benefits of having low-cost, confidential, and motivational communication. Reported barriers included cellular network restrictions, poor linkages with physical testing services, and limited knowledge of appropriate text-messaging dose. Discussion MHealth interventions may prove beneficial in reducing the proportion of undiagnosed persons living with HIV, particularly among vulnerable and key populations. However, more rigorous and tailored interventions are needed to assess the effectiveness of widespread use.
Keywords: HIV testing; MHealth; Telemedicine; interventions; systematic review.