From the Journals

Free HIV self-tests for at-risk groups can increase awareness, testing frequency



A new study has found that distributing HIV self-tests to at-risk groups such as men who have sex with men can increase testing frequency and uncover more previously undiagnosed infections.

“Based on these findings, HIV prevention programs might consider adding an HIV self-testing mail distribution component to their portfolio of HIV prevention services for high-risk populations,” wrote Robin J. MacGowan, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and coauthors. The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

To assess the potential benefits of expanded HIV self-testing, the CDC sponsored a 12-month randomized clinical trial called the Evaluation of Rapid HIV Self-testing Among MSM Project (eSTAMP). Participants were recruited via social media, music and dating websites; criteria included being aged at least 18 years, never having tested positive for HIV, and having engaged in anal sex with at least one man in the past year. The 2,665 participants were assigned to either the self-testing (ST) group (n = 1,325) or the control group (n = 1,340); the ST group received four self-tests in the mail with the option for more each quarter. All participants were asked to complete follow-up surveys every 3 months.

Of all participants, 1,991 (74.7%) initiated at least one follow-up survey. Participants in the ST group reported testing more frequently than those in the control group (an average of 5.3 tests vs. 1.5 tests; P less than .001). In addition, a much higher percentage of ST participants tested at least three times in 12 months (777 of 1014 [76.6%]), compared with controls (215 of 977 [22.0%]). A total of 36 participants tested newly positive for HIV during the study; over the first 3 months, 12 of the 14 infections were identified in the ST group (P less than .007). Over 12 months, 25 of the infections came from the ST group, compared with 11 in the control group (P = .02).

When HIV tests are free and convenient, members of high-risk populations will use them, wrote Julia M. Janssen, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, and Mitchell H. Katz, MD, of New York City Health and Hospitals in an accompanying editorial (JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Nov 18. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.5442). But tests are not enough; the authors noted the role of primary care physicians in prescribing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for at-risk patients as key in decreasing rates of new HIV diagnoses.

“The self-testing kits targeting individuals at high risk of acquiring HIV complement the use of PrEP,” they added, “and are another way to accelerate the end of the epidemic.”

The study was funded by the CDC. One author reported receiving grants and fees from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, along with personal fees from Elsevier and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network. Dr. Katz reported receiving royalties for a chapter on HIV in Lange’s Current Medicine and Diagnostic Testing.

SOURCE: MacGowan RJ et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Nov 18. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.5222.

Next Article: