June 14, 2019 | Erin Bluvas, firstname.lastname@example.org
Health promotion, education, and behavior assistant professor Donaldson Conserve’s research into promoting HIV testing among men in Tanzania has reached a new milestone. The Self-Testing Education and Promotion (STEP) Project recently launched the Peer Education component of the intervention.
Conserve began the STEP Project in 2016 after receiving a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Pathway to Independence Award (K99/R00). The purpose of the STEP Project is to investigate whether HIV self-testing versus testing at a health care facility would be an acceptable and feasible approach of increasing HIV testing among social networks of men.
This research takes place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with networks of men who socialize in organized groups known as camps. Fittingly, the STEP Project overlaps with the government’s recent launch of an HIV testing campaign focused on men.
“HIV testing serves as the gateway to HIV prevention and treatment but remains low among men, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where men have lower testing rates than women for several reasons, including fear of losing respect, less interaction with the health care system, and perceived lack of privacy and confidentiality at health care clinics,” explains Conserve. “HIV self-testing has the potential to remove barriers preventing men from testing and increase their HIV testing rates.”
Over the three years of the STEP Project, Conserve has published four peer-reviewed journal articles on the project's findings. The topics of these papers have covered various aspects of the study in-depth, from better understanding the behaviors of men who have never tested for HIV (compared to those who have) and assessing participants attitudes towards self-testing including perceived benefits (e.g., privacy, confidentiality, saving time).
In April, Conserve expanded the STEP Project even further by launching the Peer Education Program. This component of the project includes facilitating the nomination of peer educators by men from nine camps participating in the STEP Project. After engaging 166 camp members and informing them about the STEP project and the criteria for peer educators, Conserve and his team successfully recruited 25 potential peer educators to join the project. Since the educators are nominated by their peers, they have the support of their camp members and will serve as the liaisons between their camp members and the research team. In the formative phase of the STEP Project, the camp members requested that the research team provide education about HIV self-testing in order to raise awareness about the new HIV testing strategy. The peer educators will help accomplish this goal by providing the necessary information about HIV self-testing to their peers.
A few weeks after the nominations, 25 peer educators participated in a five-day training to help create a demand for HIV self-testing among men and advocating for men’s health-seeking behaviors. The workshop was designed to build the capacity of the participants, empowering them to become effective ambassadors for ensuring men in their communities learn about HIV self-testing, creating a demand for testing, and mobilizing them to engage in HIV self-testing.
Specifically, the peer educators gained an understanding of the reasons and benefits for, working with men to address HIV/AIDS challenges and the basics of HIV self-testing. They also learned strategies for community mobilization, effective communication and counseling skills, and methods for taking action and facilitating change in their community.