Effect of peer-distributed HIV self-test kits on demand for biomedical HIV prevention in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: a three-armed cluster-randomised trial comparing social networks versus direct delivery

BMJ Glob Health. 2021 Jul;6(Suppl 4):e004574. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2020-004574.


Study objective: We investigated two peer distribution models of HIV self-testing (HIVST) in HIV prevention demand creation compared with trained young community members (peer navigators).

Methods: We used restricted randomisation to allocate 24 peer navigator pairs (clusters) in KwaZulu-Natal 1:1:1: (1) standard of care (SOC): peer navigators distributed clinic referrals, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and antiretroviral therapy (ART) information to 18-30 year olds. (2) peer navigator direct distribution (PND): Peer navigators distributed HIVST packs (SOC plus two OraQuick HIVST kits) (3) incentivised peer networks (IPN): peer navigators recruited young community members (seeds) to distribute up to five HIVST packs to 18-30 year olds within their social networks. Seeds received 20 Rand (US$1.5) for each recipient who distributed further packs. The primary outcome was PrEP/ART linkage, defined as screening for PrEP/ART eligibility within 90 days of pack distribution per peer navigator month (pnm) of outreach, in women aged 18-24 (a priority for HIV prevention). Investigators and statisticians were blinded to allocation. Analysis was intention to treat. Total and unit costs were collected prospectively.

Results: Between March and December 2019, 4163 packs (1098 SOC, 1480 PND, 1585 IPN) were distributed across 24 clusters. During 144 pnm, 272 18-30 year olds linked to PrEP/ART (1.9/pnm). Linkage rates for 18-24-year-old women were lower for IPN (n=26, 0.54/pnm) than PND (n=45, 0.80/pnm; SOC n=49, 0.85/pnm). Rate ratios were 0.68 (95% CI 0.28 to 1.66) for IPN versus PND, 0.64 (95% CI 0.26 to 1.62) for IPN versus SOC and 0.95 (95% CI 0.38 to 2.36) for PND versus SOC. In 18-30 year olds, PND had significantly more linkages than IPN (2.11 vs 0.88/pnm, RR 0.42, 95% CI 0.18 to 0.98). Cost per pack distributed was cheapest for IPN (US$36) c.f. SOC (US$64). Cost per person linked to PrEP/ART was cheaper in both peer navigator arms compared with IPN.

Discussion: HIVST did not increase demand for PrEP/ART. Incentivised social network distribution reached large numbers with HIVST but resulted in fewer linkages compared with PrEP/ART promotion by peer navigators.

Trial registration number: NCT03751826.

Keywords: HIV; cluster randomized trial; other diagnostic or tool; prevention strategies; public health.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / diagnosis
  • HIV Infections* / drug therapy
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Rural Population
  • Self-Testing*
  • Social Networking
  • South Africa / epidemiology
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03751826