When healthcare providers are supportive, 'I'd rather not test alone': Exploring uptake and acceptability of HIV self-testing for youth in Zimbabwe - A mixed method study

J Int AIDS Soc. 2021 Sep;24(9):e25815. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25815.


Introduction: In sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of young people know their HIV status. HIV self-testing (HIVST) is a testing strategy with the potential to offer privacy and autonomy. We aimed to understand the uptake and acceptability of different HIV testing options for youth in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Methods: This study was nested within a cluster randomized trial of a youth-friendly community-based integrated HIV and sexual and reproductive health intervention for youth aged 16-24 years. Three HIV testing options were offered: (1) provider-delivered testing; (2) HIVST on site in a private booth without a provider present; and (3) provision of a test kit to test off site. Descriptive statistics and proportions were used to investigate the uptake of HIV testing in a client sample. A focus group discussion (FGD) with intervention providers alongside in-depth interviews, paired interviews and FGDs with a selected sample of youth clients explored uptake and acceptability of the different HIV testing strategies. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the qualitative data.

Results: Between April and June 2019, 951 eligible clients were tested for HIV: 898 (94.4%) chose option 1, 30 (3.25%) chose option 2 and 23 (2.4%) chose option 3. Option 1 clients cited their trust in the service and a desire for immediate counselling, support and guidance from trusted providers as the reasons for their choice. Young people were not confident in their expertise to conduct HIVST. Concerns about limited privacy, confidentiality and lack of support in the event of an HIV-positive result were barriers for off-site HIVST.

Conclusions: In the context of supportive, trusted and youth-friendly providers, youth clients overwhelmingly preferred provider-delivered HIV testing over client-initiated HIVST or HIVST off site. This highlights the importance of listening to youth to improve engagement in testing. While young people want autonomy in choosing when, where and how to test, they do not want to necessarily test on their own. They desire quality in-person counselling, guidance and support, alongside privacy and confidentiality. To increase the appeal of HIVST for youth, greater provision of access to private spaces is required, and accessible pre- and post-test counselling and support may improve uptake.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03719521.

Keywords: HIV self-testing; Zimbabwe; decision-making; preferences; sequential explanatory mixed method design; youth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • HIV Infections* / diagnosis
  • Health Personnel
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Self-Testing*
  • Zimbabwe

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03719521