Sigma Research

Comparing the effects of HIV self-testing to standard HIV testing for key populations: a systematic review and meta-analysis

BMC Medicine, 2020; 18:381 (doi:10.1186/s12916-020-01835-z).

Authors: T. Charles Witzel, Ingrid Eshun-Wilson, Muhammad S. Jamil, Nerissa Tilouche, Carmen Figueroa, Cheryl C. Johnson, David Reid, Rachel Baggaley, Nandi Siegfried, Fiona M. Burns, Alison J. Rodger & Peter Weatherburn


Background: We update a previous systematic review to inform new World Health Organization HIV self-testing (HIVST) recommendations. We compared the effects of HIVST to standard HIV testing services to understand which service delivery models are effective for key populations.

Methods: We did a systematic review of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) which compared HIVST to standard HIV testing in key populations, published from 1 January 2006 to 4 June 2019 in PubMed, Embase, Global Index Medicus, Social Policy and Practice, PsycINFO, Health Management Information Consortium, EBSCO CINAHL Plus, Cochrane Library and Web of Science. We extracted study characteristic and outcome data and conducted risk of bias assessments using the Cochrane ROB tool version 1. Random effects meta-analyses were conducted, and pooled effect estimates were assessed along with other evidence characteristics to determine the overall strength of the evidence using GRADE methodology.

Results: After screening 5909 titles and abstracts, we identified 10 RCTs which reported on testing outcomes. These included 9679 participants, of whom 5486 were men who have sex with men (MSM), 72 were trans people and 4121 were female sex workers. Service delivery models included facility-based, online/mail and peer distribution. Support components were highly diverse and ranged from helplines to training and supervision. HIVST increased testing uptake by 1.45 times (RR=1.45 95% CI 1.20, 1.75). For MSM and small numbers of trans people, HIVST increased the mean number of HIV tests by 2.56 over follow-up (mean difference = 2.56; 95% CI 1.24, 3.88). There was no difference between HIVST and SoC in regard to positivity among tested overall (RR = 0.91; 95% CI 0.73, 1.15); in sensitivity analysis of positivity among randomised HIVST identified significantly more HIV infections among MSM and trans people (RR = 2.21; 95% CI 1.20, 4.08) and in online/mail distribution systems (RR = 2.21; 95% CI 1.14, 4.32). Yield of positive results in FSW was not significantly different between HIVST and SoC. HIVST reduced linkage to care by 17% compared to SoC overall (RR = 0.83; 95% CI 0.74, 0.92). Impacts on STI testing were mixed; two RCTs showed no decreases in STI testing while one showed significantly lower STI testing in the intervention arm. There were no negative impacts on condom use (RR = 0.95; 95% CI 0.83, 1.08), and social harm was very rare.

Conclusions: HIVST is safe and increases testing uptake and frequency as well as yield of positive results for MSM and trans people without negative effects on linkage to HIV care, STI testing, condom use or social harm. Testing uptake was increased for FSW, yield of positive results were not and linkage to HIV care was worse. Strategies to improve linkage to care outcomes for both groups are crucial for effective roll-out.

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