AIMS: To describe the use of large-scale respondent driven sampling (RDS) surveys to demonstrate the "end of an HIV epidemic" (HIV incidence < 0.5/100 person-years) among persons who inject drugs (PWID) in a middle-income country. Large sample sizes are needed to convincingly demonstrate very low incidence rates.
METHODS: 4 large surveys (Ns approximately 1500 each) were conducted among PWID in Hai Phong, Vietnam in 2016-2019. Respondent driven sampling (RDS) with a modification to add snowball sampling was used for recruiting participants. HIV incidence was measured through recency testing, repeat participants across multiple surveys and in a cohort study of PWID recruited from the surveys. RDS analytics (time to equilibria and homophilies for major variables) were used to assess similarities/differences in RDS only versus RDS plus snowball recruiting. Characteristics were compared among respondents recruited through standard RDS recruitment versus through snowball sampling. An overall assessment of the robustness of RDS to modification was made when adding a snowball sampling recruitment.
RESULTS: RDS recruiting was very efficient in the first 5 weeks of each survey with approximately 180 respondents recruited per week. Recruiting then slowed considerably, and snowball sampling (permitting an individual respondent to recruit large numbers of new respondents) was added to the existing RDS recruiting. This led to recruiting within 13-14 weeks of 1383, 1451, 1444 and 1268 respondents, close to the target of 1500 respondents/survey. Comparisons of participants recruited through standard RDS method and respondents recruited through snowball methods showed very few significant differences. RDS analytics (quickly reaching equilibria, low homophilies) were favorable for both RDS recruited and total numbers of participants in each survey. DRug use and Infections in ViEtnam (DRIVE) methods have now been officially adopted in other provinces.
CONCLUSIONS: RDS appears to be quite robust with respect to adding a modest number of participants recruited through snowball sampling. Large sample sizes can provide compelling evidence for "ending an HIV epidemic" to policy makers in a PWID population in a middle income country setting.
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