Is HIV index testing and partner notification safe for adolescent girls and young women in low- and middle-income countries?

J Int AIDS Soc. 2020 Sep;23 Suppl 5(Suppl 5):e25562. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25562.


Introduction: While HIV index testing and partner notification (PN) services have the potential to reach adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) aged 15 to 24 and their sexual partners in need of HIV testing services, the potential social harms have not yet been studied. This commentary highlights the risks of this approach, including intimate partner violence (IPV), stigma and discrimination, and outlines an urgent research agenda to fully understand the potential harms of PN for AGYW, calling for the development of mitigation strategies.

Discussion: A substantial evidence base exists demonstrating the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of index testing and partner notification for adults aged 18 years and older in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), particularly for men, and for adults who are married/cohabiting and referring a current sexual partner. AGYW who are most vulnerable to HIV infection in LMICs do not reflect these demographics. Instead, they are often in age-disparate partnerships, have limited negotiating power within relationships, experience high rates of violence and face economic challenges that necessitate transactional sex. PN services may be particularly difficult for adolescent girls under 18 who face restrictions on their decision making and are at increased risk of rape. Adolescent girls may also face coercion to notify partners due to unequal power dynamics in the provider-adolescent client relationship, as well as judgemental attitudes towards adolescent sexual activity among providers.

Conclusions: As index testing and PN with AGYW is already being rolled out in some LMICs, research is urgently needed to assess its feasibility and acceptability. Implementation science studies should assess the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of HIV PN services for AGYW. Qualitative studies and routine monitoring with age-disaggregated data are critical to capture potential social harms, PN preferences and support needs for AGYW aged 15 to 17, 18 to 20 and 21 to 24. To mitigate potential harms, PN methods should prioritize confidentiality and avoidance of adverse outcomes. Healthcare providers should be trained to conduct routine enquiry for IPV and provide first-line support. Support services for AGYW living with HIV and survivors of violence should be implemented alongside HIV PN.

Keywords: HIV; LMIC; adolescent girls and young women; gender; stigma; testing; violence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Health Services
  • Adult
  • Coercion
  • Confidentiality
  • Contact Tracing*
  • Developing Countries
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • HIV Testing*
  • Health Services
  • Humans
  • Intimate Partner Violence
  • Male
  • Poverty
  • Qualitative Research
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual Partners*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Violence
  • Young Adult