HIV testing preferences in Tanzania: a qualitative exploration of the importance of confidentiality, accessibility, and quality of service

Njau B, Ostermann J, Brown D, Mühlbacher A, Reddy E, Thielman N
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BACKGROUND: HIV counseling and testing (HCT), an effective preventive strategy and an entry point for care, remains under-utilized in Tanzania. Limited uptake of HCT, despite the widespread availability of varied testing options, suggests that existing options may not align well with population preferences for testing.

METHODS: Between October and December 2011, we conducted an exploratory study in the Kilimanjaro Region to develop a conceptual framework for understanding which characteristics of HIV testing are associated with preferences for testing. Forty individuals (55% women, 53% never having tested) participated in in-depth interviews and focus groups to identify factors that influence whether and where people test for HIV.

RESULTS: A variety of discrete characteristics of testing venues, test providers, and testing procedures (e.g. distance to testing, counselor experience, type of HIV test, and availability of antiretroviral therapy) mapped conceptually to three domains: confidentiality of testing and test results, quality of HCT, and accessibility and availability of ancillary services. We noted heterogeneous preferences and demonstrate that while some test characteristics overlap and reinforce across multiple domains, others demand clients to make trade-offs between domains.

CONCLUSION: Testing decisions appear to be influenced by an array of often inter-linked factors across multiple domains, including quality, confidentiality, and accessibility; perceptions of these factors varied greatly across participants and across available testing options. HCT interventions that jointly target barriers spanning the three domains have the potential to increase uptake of HIV testing and deserve further exploration.