Assisted partner notification services for patients receiving HIV care and treatment in an HIV clinic in Nairobi, Kenya: a qualitative assessment of barriers and opportunities for scale-up

J Int AIDS Soc. 2019 Jul;22 Suppl 3(Suppl Suppl 3):e25315. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25315.


Introduction: Identifying HIV-positive individuals is increasingly recognized as one of the most important and most challenging of the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goals. Assisted partner notification services (aPNS) involves tracing and offering HIV testing to partners of HIV-positive individuals, and is effective and safe when provided to newly diagnosed HIV-positive patients. Voluntary aPNS is now part of the World Health Organization's guidelines for HIV prevention and care. However, uptake of aPNS is significantly lower among adults with established HIV infection already engaged in care compared to newly diagnosed individuals. We sought to describe barriers encountered and potential opportunities to providing aPNS to established patients living with HIV.

Methods: We conducted focus group discussions and in-depth interviews at Nairobi's largest public HIV clinic in April to May 2016 to elucidate barriers to and opportunities for aPNS among established patients engaged in HIV care. Participants included HIV-positive adults in care, their partners, and healthcare workers (HCWs). Qualitative data analysis took a grounded theory approach.

Results: Barriers to aPNS fell under three main categories. Fear of disclosure to partners included concerns over relationship repercussions, loss of trust, blame and violence. Stigma and discrimination were described in the healthcare setting, at church and in general society. Participants described difficulties approaching communication, including cultural barriers and differences in education. For almost every barrier a potential solution was also identified, and a barrier-opportunity relationship emerged. Opportunities included using couples testing centres to aid in disclosure, focusing on the ambiguous introduction of the infection, and sensitization of HCWs and community leaders.

Conclusions: aPNS among established HIV patients is associated with different barriers and opportunities than aPNS among newly diagnosed patients, and HCWs should build their capacity to support aPNS in this population. There is a strong need for increased training and sensitization on the use of aPNS in different circumstances and for different clients, taking into consideration factors such as timing of partner notification, characteristics of the relationship and duration of knowledge discordance. The overall success of this intervention among populations living with HIV may rely on customization of services and key messages to meet the patients' specific needs.

Keywords: HIV testing; Kenya; assisted partner notification services; barriers; disclosure; facilitators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Disease Notification / methods*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • HIV Infections / psychology
  • HIV Infections / therapy
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Kenya
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Social Stigma