Using Assisted Partner Services for HIV Testing and the Treatment of Males and Their Female Sexual Partners: Protocol for an Implementation Science Study

JMIR Res Protoc. 2021 May 20;10(5):e27262. doi: 10.2196/27262.

Abstract

Background: Despite the effective scale-up of HIV testing and treatment programs, only 75% of people living with HIV (PLWH) globally know their status, and this rate is lower among men. This highlights the importance of implementing HIV testing and linkage interventions with a high uptake in this population. In a cluster randomized controlled trial conducted in Kenya between 2013 and 2015, we found that assisted partner services (APS) for HIV-exposed partners of newly diagnosed PLWH safely reached more HIV-exposed individuals with HIV testing compared with client referral alone. However, more data are needed to evaluate APS implementation in a real-world setting.

Objective: This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness, acceptability, fidelity, and cost of APS when integrated into existing HIV testing services (HTS) in Western Kenya.

Methods: Our study team from the University of Washington and PATH is integrating APS into 31 health facilities in Western Kenya. We are enrolling females newly diagnosed with HIV (index clients) who consent to receiving APS, their male sexual partners, and female sexual partners of male sexual partners who tested HIV positive. Female index clients and sexual partners testing HIV positive will be followed up at 6 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months postenrollment to assess linkage to care, antiretroviral therapy initiation, and HIV viral load suppression. We will evaluate the acceptability, fidelity, and cost of real-world implementation of APS via in-depth interviews conducted with national, county, and subcounty-level policy makers responsible for HTS. Facility health staff providing HTS and APS, in addition to staff working with the study project team, will also be interviewed. We will also conduct direct observations of facility infrastructure and clinical procedures and extract data from the facilities and county and national databases.

Results: As of March 2020, we have recruited 1724 female index clients, 3201 male partners, and 1585 female partners. We have completed study recruitment as well as 6-week (2936/2973, 98.75%), 6-month (1596/1641, 97.25%), and 12-month (725/797, 90.9%) follow-up visits. Preliminary analyses show that facilities scaling up APS identify approximately 12-18 new HIV-positive males for every 100 men contacted and tested. We are currently completing the remaining follow-up interviews and incorporating an HIV self-testing component into the study in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Conclusions: The results will help bridge the gap between clinical research findings and real-world practice and provide guidance regarding optimal strategies for APS integration into routine HIV service delivery.

International registered report identifier (irrid): DERR1-10.2196/27262.

Keywords: HIV testing and counseling; assisted partner notification services; implementation science; linkage to care; western Kenya.