Overcoming Barriers to HIV/STD Partner Services in Kenya and the United States

Marielle Goyette | 2017

Advisor: Carey Farquhar

Research Area(s): Global Health, Infectious Diseases, Public Health Practice


Increasing the proportion of people living with HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) who know their status is critical to curbing the HIV and STD epidemics. Partner services (PS) are a core public health strategy that test and treat or link to care the partners of individuals newly diagnosed with HIV or an STD (“index patients”). Targeting the testing of individuals who may have been exposed to HIV or an STD is an effective way to detect new cases. There is not currently an HIV PS program in Kenya, and it will be important to understand and address the barriers to the uptake of the service before implementation. HIV and STD PS are routinely conducted in the U.S., but meeting sex partners through geosocial networking (GSN) apps is an emerging barrier to traditional partner notification among men who have sex with men (MSM). To define and address barriers to PS in Kenya and the U.S., this dissertation (1) explored index patient and health system barriers to HIV PS in Kenya, (2) determined whether HIV PS effectiveness and safety differ based on a history of intimate partner violence (IPV) in Kenya, (3) explored the attitudes around and (4) measured the acceptability of using GSN apps for HIV/STD partner notification among MSM in the U.S. In a qualitative study in Kenya, we identified key barriers to and created recommendations for increasing the uptake of HIV PS. Encouraging stronger relationships between index patients and HIV testing counselors may elevate trust and increase PS uptake. A patient’s decision to provide partner information may depend on the type of relationship he or she is in, and alternative methods of disclosure may need to be offered to accommodate different contexts. Spreading awareness about PS in the community may make clients more comfortable with the process of providing partner information. Using data from a cluster-randomized trial of PS in Kenya, we found that history of IPV did not modify the effectiveness of PS in testing, newly diagnosing, or linking partners to care. In addition, history of IPV did not modify the association between receiving PS and relationship dissolution during the study. Taking into consideration the exclusion of those who experienced IPV in the month prior to enrollment, our results suggest that PS is an effective and safe partner notification strategy for index patients with history of IPV in Kenya. As PS is scaled up in different contexts, these data support including those reporting past IPV and closely monitoring adverse events. In a mixed-methods study of U.S. MSM, our results suggest that GSN app-based partner notification and sexual health services are acceptable to U.S. MSM. Despite most (70%) wanting to be notified by their partner directly, the majority would still get tested if notified through a health department profile (95%) or anonymous in-app message (85%). While 50% preferred notifying a partner using their own profile, 26% preferred health department assistance, and 24% preferred using an in-app anonymous messaging system. Most participants (82%) were comfortable with apps allowing health department profiles to provide users with health services and information, but they indicated that health departments will need to build trust with the MSM community in the apps to ensure acceptable and effective app-based delivery of partner notification. Collectively, this dissertation provides recommendations to overcome barriers to HIV/STD PS to curb the HIV epidemic in Kenya and HIV and STD epidemics among MSM in the U.S.