Background The HIV epidemic is rapidly growing among men who have sex with men (MSM) in China, yet HIV testing remains suboptimal. We aimed to determine the impact of HIV self-testing (HIVST) interventions on frequency of HIV testing among Chinese MSM and their sexual partners. Methods and findings This randomized controlled trial was conducted in 4 cities in Hunan Province, China. Sexually active and HIV-negative MSM were recruited from communities and randomly assigned (1:1) to intervention or control arms. Participants in the control arm had access to site-based HIV testing (SBHT); those in the intervention arm were provided with 2 free finger-prick-based HIVST kits at enrollment and could receive 2 to 4 kits delivered through express mail every 3 months for 1 year in addition to SBHT. They were encouraged to distribute HIVST kits to their sexual partners. The primary outcome was the number of HIV tests taken by MSM participants, and the secondary outcome was the number of HIV tests taken by their sexual partners during 12 months of followup. The effect size for the primary and secondary outcomes was evaluated as the standardized mean difference (SMD) in testing frequency between intervention and control arms. Between April 14, 2018, and June 30, 2018, 230 MSM were recruited. Mean age was 29 years; 77% attended college; 75% were single. The analysis population who completed at least one follow-up questionnaire included 110 (93%, 110/118) in the intervention and 106 (95%, 106/112) in the control arm. The average frequency of HIV tests per participant in the intervention arm (3.75) was higher than that in the control arm (1.80; SMD 1.26; 95% CI 0.97–1.55; P < 0.001). This difference was mainly due to the difference in HIVST between the 2 arms (intervention 2.18 versus control 0.41; SMD 1.30; 95% CI 1.01–1.59; P < 0.001), whereas the average frequency of SBHT was comparable (1.57 versus 1.40, SMD 0.14; 95% CI -0.13 to 0.40; P = 0.519). The average frequency of HIV tests among sexual partners of each participant was higher in intervention than control arm (2.65 versus 1.31; SMD 0.64; 95% CI 0.36–0.92; P < 0.001), and this difference was also due to the difference in HIVST between the 2 arms (intervention 1.41 versus control 0.36; SMD 0.75; 95% CI 0.47–1.04; P < 0.001) but not SBHT (1.24 versus 0.96; SMD 0.23; 95% CI -0.05 to 0.50; P = 0.055). Zero-inflated Poisson regression analyses showed that the likelihood of taking HIV testing among intervention participants were 2.1 times greater than that of control participants (adjusted rate ratio [RR] 2.10; 95% CI 1.75–2.53, P < 0.001), and their sexual partners were 1.55 times more likely to take HIV tests in the intervention arm compared with the control arm (1.55, 1.23–1.95, P < 0.001). During the study period, 3 participants in the intervention arm and none in the control arm tested HIV positive, and 8 sexual partners of intervention arm participants also tested positive. No other adverse events were reported. Limitations in this study included the data on number of SBHT were solely based on self-report by the participants, but self-reported number of HIVST in the intervention arm was validated; the number of partner HIV testing was indirectly reported by participants because of difficulties in accessing each of their partners. Conclusions In this study, we found that providing free HIVST kits significantly increased testing frequency among Chinese MSM and effectively enlarged HIV testing coverage by enhancing partner HIV testing through distribution of kits within their sexual networks.
ASJC Scopus subject areas