‘I will choose when to test, where I want to test’: investigating young people's preferences for HIV self-testing in Malawi and Zimbabwe

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Abstract

Objectives:

The current study identifies young people's preferences for HIV self-testing (HIVST) delivery, determines the relative strength of preferences and explores underlying behaviors and perceptions to inform youth-friendly services in southern Africa.

Design:

A mixed methods design was adopted in Malawi and Zimbabwe and includes focus group discussions, in-depth interviews and discrete choice experiments.

Methods:

The current study was conducted during the formative phase of cluster-randomized trials of oral-fluid HIVST distribution. Young people aged 16–25 years were purposively selected for in-depth interviews (n = 15) in Malawi and 12 focus group discussions (n = 107) across countries. Representative samples of young people in both countries (n = 341) were administered discrete choice experiments on HIVST delivery, with data analyzed to estimate relative preferences. The qualitative results provided additional depth and were triangulated with the quantitative findings.

Results:

There was strong concordance across methods and countries based on the three triangulation parameters: product, provider and service characteristics. HIVST was highly accepted by young people, if provided at no or very low cost. Young people expressed mixed views on oral-fluid tests, weighing perceived benefits with accuracy concerns. There was an expressed lack of trust in health providers and preference for lay community distributors. HIVST addressed youth-specific barriers to standard HIV testing, with home-based distribution considered convenient. Issues of autonomy, control, respect and confidentiality emerged as key qualitative themes.

Conclusion:

HIVST services can be optimized to reach young people if products are provided through home-based distribution and at low prices, with respect for them as autonomous individuals.

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