What sort of impact does HIV testing (Voluntary Testing and Counselling: VCT) have on an individual’s subsequent sexual behaviour?
A number of studies of VCT clients in sub-Saharan Africa, and published in STI journal, suggest a significant preventative effect. A two-year cohort study of 401 clients of Kenyan government health centres (Arthur & Gilks, 2007) points to a significant reduction at 7.5 months both in the proportion of clients with multiple partners (from 16% to 6%) and in the numbers reporting symptoms of STIs (16% to 6%). A more recent study of attendees at health-centre affiliated VCTs in two Zambian mining villages involving serial interviews (Sikasote & Murray, 2011) serve to consolidate pre-test decisions concerning sexual risk behaviour and reflect clients’ desire to “regain control of their lives”.
In the view of the support these studies lend to the preventative aspect of VCT, it is encouraging to note the comparable behavioural changes reported in a recent study of a very different client group of 1,038 cocaine and heroin users taking up base-line VCT at a US Emergency Department (Bernstein and Madico, 2012). The study involved secondary analysis of data from a randomized control trial of a motivational intervention (ineffective, as it turned out), which included behaviour change at six and twelve months, notably: a sustained decrease in the proportion of unprotected sex acts (OR 0.7 at 6 months; 0.69 at 12 months), and a sustained drop off – from a high base-line, admittedly – in the number of sex acts (OR 3.1; 0.25). Given the screening took place during visits to an ED, this effect cannot, as in the African cases, be attributed to a pre-test decision.
These recent findings seem to endorse once again, albeit in the relation to a very different client group, the preventative impact of VCT. It is interesting, in this regard, that the Zambian study (Sikasote and Murray, 2011) raises the issue of VCT impact for those testing negative, and the importance of post-test support for this group. They even recommend the de-linking of counselling from testing to encourage earlier attendance.
G. Arthur, C. Gilks et al., “Sexual behaviour change in clients of health centre-based voluntary HIV counselling and testing services in Kenya”, Sexually Transmitted Infections 2007: 83;7
Janet Sikasote, Scott A. Murray et al., “Voluntary counselling and testing for HIV in a Zambian mining community: serial interviews with people testing negative”, Sexually Transmitted Infections 2011:87;5
Edward Bernstein, Guillermo Madico et al., “Long-term Follow-up After Voluntary Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Sexually Transmitted Infection Counseling, Point-of-service Testing, and Referral to Substance Abuse Treatment From the Emergency Department, Academic Emergency Medicine, Volume 19, Issue 4, April 2012