Free HIV self-test for identification and linkage to care of previously undetected HIV infection in men who have sex with men in England and Wales (SELPHI): an open-label, internet-based, randomised controlled trial

Lancet HIV. 2022 Dec;9(12):e838-e847. doi: 10.1016/S2352-3018(22)00266-1.


Background: High levels of HIV testing in men who have sex with men remain key to reducing the incidence of HIV. We aimed to assess whether the offer of a single, free HIV self-testing kit led to increased HIV diagnoses with linkage to care.

Methods: SELPHI was an internet-based, open-label, randomised controlled trial that recruited participants via sexual and social networking sites. Eligibility criteria included being a man or trans woman (although trans women are reported separately); being resident in England or Wales, UK; being aged 16 years or older; having had anal intercourse with a man; not having a positive HIV diagnosis; and being willing to provide name, email address, date of birth, and consent to link to national HIV databases. Participants were randomly allocated (3:2) by computer-generated number sequence to receive a free HIV self-test kit (BT group) or to not receive this free kit (nBT group). Online surveys collected data at baseline, 2 weeks after enrolment (BT group only), 3 months after enrolment, and at the end of the study. The primary outcome was confirmed (linked to care) new HIV diagnosis within 3 months of enrolment, analysed by intention to treat. Those assessing the primary outcome were masked to allocation. This study is registered with the ISRCTN Clinical Trials Register, number ISRCTN20312003.

Findings: 10 111 participants (6049 in BT group and 4062 in nBT group) enrolled between Feb 16, 2017, and March 1, 2018. The median age of participants was 33 years (IQR 26-44 years); 9000 (89%) participants were White; 8118 (80%) participants were born in the UK; 81 (1%) participants were transgender men; 4706 (47%) participants were university educated; 1537 (15%) participants had never been tested for HIV; and 389 (4%) participants were taking pre-exposure prophylaxis. At enrolment, 7282 (72%) participants reported condomless anal sex with at least one male partner in the previous 3 months. In the BT group, of the 4511 participants for whom HIV testing information was available, 4263 (95%) reported having used the free HIV self-test kit within 3 months.Within 3 months of enrolment there were 19 confirmed new HIV diagnoses (0·31%) in 6049 participants in the BT group and 15 (0·37%) of 4062 in the nBT group (p=0·64).

Interpretation: The offer of a single, free HIV self-test did not lead to increased rates of new HIV diagnoses, which could reflect decreasing HIV incidence rates in the UK. Nonetheless, the offer of a free HIV self-testing kit resulted in high HIV testing rates, indicating that self-testing is an attractive testing option for a large group of men who have sex with men.

Funding: UK National Institute for Health and Care Research.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / diagnosis
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections* / prevention & control
  • HIV Testing
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Self-Testing
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexual and Gender Minorities*
  • Wales / epidemiology

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN20312003