(August 2019). Effect of Prices, Distribution Strategies, and Marketing on Demand for HIV Self-Testing in Zimbabwe: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Network Open, 2(8), e199818.
Greater awareness of HIV status and more frequent testing in high-risk populations are essential for realizing the promise of treatment as prevention and achieving the 90-90-90 targets of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of people with diagnosed HIV will be on antiretroviral therapy [ART], and 90% of people receiving ART will be virally suppressed).1 Yet in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 20% of people living with HIV were unaware of their status in 2017.2 Despite the scale-up of a clinic- and community-based models for providing HIV testing services, testing coverage remains suboptimal, particularly among men and other key populations.3 To close the testing gap and advance HIV prevention objectives, innovative approaches are needed to increase the uptake of HIV testing in sub-Saharan Africa.
A self-administered test for HIV allows individuals to collect their own sample and to perform a simple, rapid HIV antibody test in the absence of a health care practitioner.4 Several oral fluid-based or blood-based HIV tests have received prequalification from the World Health Organization and showed high sensitivity and specificity among lay users.4 Existing research shows high interest in and acceptability of HIV self-testing across a wide range of populations.5–12 After the 2016 World Health Organization guidelines that recommended large-scale implementation of HIV self-testing, self-tests are becoming more widely available in governmental health facilities and retail outlets in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa with high HIV prevalence.4
Donor agencies and governments have heavily subsidized HIV self-tests for distribution in some countries, and private sector availability is emerging in parallel.13 However, the cost of self-tests and the price for consumers represent important obstacles to large-scale implementation of HIV self-testing. As countries seek to scale up HIV self-testing for priority populations, little evidence exists on the effect of alternative pricing and marketing strategies on self-testing demand. A growing body of evidence from low-income countries shows that demand for prevention technologies, such as antimalarial bed nets and water filtration solutions, is highly price sensitive.14–19 Knowing the self-testing demand at various prices in the general population and key subgroups is important for setting appropriate subsidy levels for these self-tests and for understanding the demand for HIV prevention technologies in general. Moreover, with HIV self-testing, information is limited about the optimal distribution approaches for reaching untested individuals and messaging strategies for promoting the adoption of such new technologies. Estimating how demand is affected not only by prices but also by various distribution approaches and types of information provided to consumers can further inform HIV self-testing scale-up efforts.
We conducted a large community-based randomized clinical trial to examine the optimal pricing policies and distribution strategies for HIV self-testing in Zimbabwe.