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Pilot phase of an internet-based RCT of HIVST targeting MSM and transgender people in England and Wales: advertising strategies and acceptability of the intervention

BMC Infectious Diseases, 2019; 19: 699 (doi:10.1186/s12879-019-4247-1). Published online 09 August 2019.

Authors: T. Charles Witzel, Michelle M. Gabriel, Leanne McCabe, Peter Weatherburn, Mitzy Gafos, Andrew Speakman, Roger Pebody, Fiona M. Burns, Chris Bonell, F.C. Lampe, D.T. Dunn, Denise Ward, Justin Harbottle, Andrew N. Phillips, Sheena McCormack, Alison J. Rodger

Abstract

Background: The SELPHI study (An HIV Self-Testing Public Health Intervention) is an online randomised controlled trial (RCT) of HIV self-testing (HIVST). The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility of recruiting UK men who have sex with men (cis and trans) and trans women who have sex with men to the SELPHI pilot, and the acceptability of the HIVST intervention used among those randomised to receive a kit.
Methods: A mixed-methods approach to assessing trial feasibility and intervention acceptability was taken, using quantitative data from advertising sources and RCT surveys alongside qualitative data from a nested sub-study.
Results: Online recruitment and intervention delivery was feasible. The recruitment strategy led to the registration of 1370 participants of whom 76% (1035) successfully enrolled and were randomised 60/40 to baseline testing vs no baseline testing. Advertising platforms performed variably. Reported HIVST kit use increased from 83% at two weeks to 96% at three months. Acceptability was very high across all quantitative measures. Participants described the instructions as easy to use, and the testing process as simple. The support structures in SELPHI were felt to be adequate. Described emotional responses to HIVST varied.
Conclusions: Recruiting to a modest sized HIVST pilot RCT is feasible, and the recruitment, intervention and HIVST kit were acceptable. Research on support needs of individuals with reactive results is warranted.

Keywords: HIV self-testing, Men who have sex with men, Transgender people, Randomised controlled trial, Online service delivery, Implementation science, Process evaluation.

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