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      The impact of voluntary counselling and testing services on sexual behaviour change and HIV incidence: observations from a cohort study in rural Tanzania

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          It is widely assumed that voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services contribute to HIV prevention by motivating clients to reduce sexual risk-taking. However, findings from sub-Saharan Africa have been mixed, particularly among HIV-negative persons. We explored associations between VCT use and changes in sexual risk behaviours and HIV incidence using data from a community HIV cohort study in northwest Tanzania.


          Data on VCT use, sexual behaviour and HIV status were available from three HIV serological surveillance rounds undertaken in 2003–4 (Sero4), 2006–7 (Sero5) and 2010 (Sero6). We used multinomial logistic regression to assess changes in sexual risk behaviours between rounds, and Poisson regression to estimate HIV incidence.


          The analyses included 3,613 participants attending Sero4 and Sero5 (3,474 HIV-negative and 139 HIV-positive at earlier round) and 2,998 attending Sero5 and Sero6 (2,858 HIV-negative and 140 HIV-positive at earlier round). Among HIV-negative individuals VCT use was associated with reductions in the number of sexual partners in the last year (aRR Seros 4–5: 1.42, 95% CI 1.07-1.88; aRR Seros 5–6: 1.68, 95% CI 1.25-2.26) and in the likelihood of having a non-cohabiting partner in the last year (aRR Seros 4–5: 1.57, 95% CI 1.10-2.25; aRR Seros 5–6: 1.48, 95% CI 1.07-2.04) or a high-risk partner in the last year (aRR Seros 5–6 1.57, 95% CI 1.06-2.31). However, VCT was also associated with stopping using condoms with non-cohabiting partners between Seros 4–5 (aRR 4.88, 95% CI 1.39-17.16). There were no statistically significant associations between VCT use and changes in HIV incidence, nor changes in sexual behaviour among HIV-positive individuals, possibly due to small sample sizes.


          We found moderate associations between VCT use and reductions in some sexual risk behaviours among HIV-negative participants, but no impacts among HIV-positive individuals in the context of low overall VCT uptake. Furthermore, there were no significant changes in HIV incidence associated with VCT use, although declining background incidence and small sample sizes may have prevented us from detecting this. The impact of VCT services will ultimately depend upon rates of uptake, with further research required to better understand processes of behaviour change following VCT use.

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          Voluntary counselling and testing: uptake, impact on sexual behaviour, and HIV incidence in a rural Zimbabwean cohort.

          To examine the determinants of uptake of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services, to assess changes in sexual risk behaviour following VCT, and to compare HIV incidence amongst testers and non-testers. Prospective population-based cohort study of adult men and women in the Manicaland province of eastern Zimbabwe. Demographic, socioeconomic, sexual behaviour and VCT utilization data were collected at baseline (1998-2000) and follow-up (3 years later). HIV status was determined by HIV-1 antibody detection. In addition to services provided by the government and non-governmental organizations, a mobile VCT clinic was available at study sites. Lifetime uptake of VCT increased from under 6% to 11% at follow-up. Age, increasing education and knowledge of HIV were associated with VCT uptake. Women who took a test were more likely to be HIV positive and to have greater HIV knowledge and fewer total lifetime partners. After controlling for demographic characteristics, sexual behaviour was not independently associated with VCT uptake. Women who tested positive reported increased consistent condom use in their regular partnerships. However, individuals who tested negative were more likely to adopt more risky behaviours in terms of numbers of partnerships in the last month, the last year and in concurrent partnerships. HIV incidence during follow-up did not differ between testers and non-testers. Motivation for VCT uptake was driven by knowledge and education rather than sexual risk. Increased sexual risk following receipt of a negative result may be a serious unintended consequence of VCT. It should be minimized with appropriate pre- and post-test counselling.
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            Voluntary HIV counseling and testing acceptance, sexual risk behavior and HIV incidence in Rakai, Uganda.

            To assess the acceptance of voluntary HIV counseling and testing (VCT) and the effects of VCT on sexual risk behavior and HIV acquisition in Rakai, Uganda. In a rural cohort, 10 694 consenting adults were interviewed, provided blood for HIV testing and were offered free VCT by community resident counselors. The proportions receiving VCT and the adjusted risk ratio (adj. RR) of VCT acceptance were estimated by log binomial regression. Risk behaviors and HIV incidence per 100 person-years (PY) in HIV-negative acceptors and non-acceptors of VCT were assessed prospectively. Although 93% initially requested HIV results, 62.2% subsequently accepted VCT. VCT acceptance was lower among persons with no prior VCT [Adj. RR = 0.88; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.85-0.90], individuals with primary education (adj. RR = 0.94; 95% CI, 0.90-0.99) or higher (adj. RR = 0.91; 95% CI, 0.87-0.97), individuals who were HIV-positive (adj. RR = 0.72; 95% CI, 0.68-0.76), and persons reporting condom use in the past 6 months (inconsistent users, adj. RR = 0.95; 95% CI, 0.90-0.99; consistent users, adj. RR = 0.88; 95% CI, 0.82-0.95). VCT acceptance was higher among the currently married (adj. RR = 1.14; 95% CI, 1.08-1.20) and previously married (adj. RR = 1.11; 95% CI, 1.04-1.18). Receipt of results was not significantly associated with age, gender, and self-perception of HIV risk. There were no significant differences in sexual risk behaviors, or in HIV incidence between acceptors (1.6/100 PY) and non-acceptors (1.4/100 PY) of VCT. In this rural cohort where VCT services are free and accessible, there is self-selection of individuals accepting VCT, and no impact of VCT on subsequent risk behaviors or HIV incidence.
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              Voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) for changing HIV-related risk behavior in developing countries.

              Voluntary counseling and testing (VCT) continues to play a critical role in HIV prevention, care and treatment. In recent years, different modalities of VCT have been implemented, including clinic-, mobile- and home-based testing and counseling. This review assesses the effects of all VCT types on HIV-related risk behaviors in low- and middle-income countries. The primary objective of this review is to systematically review the literature examining the efficacy of VCT in changing HIV-related risk behaviors in developing countries across various populations. Five electronic databases - PubMed, Excerpta Medica Database (EMBASE), PsycINFO, Sociological Abstracts, and the Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) - were searched using predetermined key words and phrases. Hand-searching was conducted in four key journals including AIDS, AIDS and Behavior, AIDS Education and Prevention, and AIDS Care; the tables of contents of these four journals during the included time period were individually screened for relevant articles. The reference lists of all articles included in the review were screened to identify any additional studies; this process was iterated until no additional articles were found. To be included in the review, eligible studies had to meet the following inclusion criteria: 1) Take place in a low- or middle-income country as defined by the World Bank, 2) Published in a peer-reviewed journal between January 1, 1990 and July 6, 2010, 3) Involve client-initiated VCT, including pre-test counseling, HIV-testing, and post-test counseling, and 4) Use a pre/post or multi-arm design that compares individuals before and after receiving VCT or individuals who received VCT to those who did not, and 5) Report results pertaining to behavioral, psychological, biological, or social HIV-related outcomes. All citations were initially screened and all relevant citations were independently screened by two reviewers to assess eligibility. For all included studies data were extracted by two team members working independently using a standardized form.  Differences were resolved through consensus or discussion with the study coordinator when necessary. Study rigor was assessed using an eight point quality score and through the Cochrane Collaboration's Risk of Bias Assessment Tool. Outcomes comparable across studies, including condom use and number of sex partners, were meta-analyzed using random effects models. With respect to both meta-analyses, data were included from multi-arm studies and from pre/post studies if adequate data were provided. Other outcomes, including HIV-incidence, STI incidence/prevalence, and positive and negative life events were synthesized qualitatively. For meta-analysis, all outcomes were converted to the standard metric of the odds ratio. If an outcome could not be converted to an odds ratio, the study was excluded from analysis.  An initial search yielded 2808 citations. After excluding studies failing to meet the inclusion criteria, 19 were deemed eligible for inclusion. Of these studies, two presented duplicate data and were removed. The remaining 17 studies were included in the qualitative synthesis and 8 studies were meta-analyzed.  Twelve studies offered  clinic-based VCT, 3 were employment-based, 1 involved mobile VCT, and 1 provided home-based VCT.  In meta-analysis, the odds of reporting increased number of sexual partners were reduced when comparing participants who received VCT to those who did not, unadjusted random effects pooled OR= 0.69 (95% CI: 0.53-0.90, p=0.007). When stratified by serostatus, these results only remained significant for those who tested HIV-positive. There was an insignificant increase in the odds of condom use/protected sex among participants who received VCT compared to those who did not, unadjusted random effects pooled OR=1.39 (95% CI: 0.97-1.99, p=0.076). When stratified by HIV status, this effect became significant among HIV-positive participants, random effects pooled OR= 3.24 (95% CI: 2.29-4.58, p<0.001). These findings add to growing evidence that VCT can change HIV-related sexual risk behaviors thereby reducing HIV-related risk, and confirming its importance as an HIV prevention strategy. To maximize the effectiveness of VCT, more studies should be conducted to understand which modalities and counseling strategies produce significant reductions in risky behaviors and lead to the greatest uptake of VCT.

                Author and article information

                BMC Infect Dis
                BMC Infect. Dis
                BMC Infectious Diseases
                BioMed Central
                22 March 2014
                : 14
                : 159
                [1 ]Department of Population Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London WC1E 7HT, UK
                [2 ]TAZAMA Project, National Institute for Medical Research, P. O. Box 1462, Mwanza, Tanzania
                Copyright © 2014 Cawley et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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