Perceived acceptability of home-based couples voluntary HIV counseling and testing in Northern Tanzania

B. Njau, M.H. Watt, J. Ostermann, R. Manongi & K.J. Sikkema
Publication year: 

It is estimated that 5.6% of the Tanzanian population ages 15–49 are infected with HIV, but only 30% of adults have ever had an HIV test. Couples' testing has proven to increase testing coverage and introduce HIV prevention, but barriers include access to testing services and unequal gender dynamics in relationships. Innovative approaches are needed to address barriers to couple's testing and increase uptake of HIV testing. Using qualitative data collection methods, a formative study was conducted to assess the acceptability of a home-based couples counseling and testing (HBCCT) approach. Eligible study participants included married men and women, HIV-infected individuals, health care and home-based care providers, voluntary counseling and testing counselors, and community leaders. A total of 91 individuals participated in focus group discussions (FGDs) and in-depth interviews conducted between September 2009 and January 2010 in rural settings in Northern Tanzania. An HBCCT intervention appears to be broadly acceptable among participants. Benefits of HBCCT were identified in terms of access, confidentiality, and strengthening the relationship. Fears of negative consequences from knowing one's HIV status, including stigma, blame, physical abuse, or divorce, remain a concern and a potential barrier to the successful provision of the intervention. Lessons for implementation highlighted the importance of appointments for home visits, building relationships of confidence and trust between counselors and clients, and assessing and responding to a couple's readiness to undergo HIV testing. HBCCT should addresses HIV stigma, emphasize confidentiality, and improve communication skills for disclosure and decision-making among couples.