Protocol, rationale and design of SELPHI: a randomised controlled trial assessing whether offering free HIV self-testing kits via the internet increases the rate of HIV diagnosis

BMC Infect Dis. 2018 Oct 23;18(1):531. doi: 10.1186/s12879-018-3433-x.


Background: Among men who have sex with men (MSM) in the UK, an estimated 28% have never tested for HIV and only 27% of those at higher risk test at least every 6 months. HIV self-testing (HIVST), where the person takes their own blood/saliva sample and processes it themselves, offers the opportunity to remove many structural and social barriers to testing. Although several randomised controlled trials are assessing the impact of providing HIVST on rates of HIV testing, none are addressing whether this results in increased rates of HIV diagnoses that link to clinical care. Linking to care is the critical outcome because it is the only way to access antiretroviral treatment (ART). We describe here the design of a large, internet-based randomised controlled trial of HIVST, called SELPHI, which aims to inform this key question.

Methods/design: The SELPHI study, which is ongoing is promoted via social networking website and app advertising, and aims to enroll HIV negative men, trans men and trans women, aged over 16 years, who are living in England and Wales. Apart from the physical delivery of the test kits, all trial processes, including recruitment, take place online. In a two-stage randomisation, participants are first randomised (3:2) to receive a free baseline HIVST or no free baseline HIVST. At 3 months, participants allocated to receive a baseline HIVST (and meeting further eligibility criteria) are subsequently randomised (1:1) to receive the offer of regular (every 3 months) free HIVST, with testing reminders, versus no such offer. The primary outcome from both randomisations is a laboratory-confirmed HIV diagnosis, ascertained via linkage to a national HIV surveillance database.

Discussion: SELPHI will provide the first reliable evidence on whether offering free HIVST via the internet increases rates of confirmed HIV diagnoses and linkage to clinical care. The two randomisations reflect the dual objectives of detecting prevalent infections (possibly long-standing) and the more rapid diagnosis of incident HIV infections. It is anticipated that the results of SELPHI will inform future access to HIV self-testing provision in the UK.

Trial registration: DOI 10.1186/ISRCTN20312003 registered 24/10/2016.

Keywords: Diagnosis; HIV; HIVST; Incident; MSM; Prevalent; Self-testing.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • England
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Serologic Tests
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities
  • Social Networking
  • Surveys and Questionnaires