Strategies to increase couples HIV testing and counselling in sub-Saharan Africa: A systematic review


INTRODUCTION: Couple HIV testing and counselling (CHTC) is associated with measurable benefits for HIV prevention and treatment. However, the uptake remains limited in much of sub-Saharan Africa, despite an expanded range of strategies designed to promote access. METHODS: Following PRIMSA guidelines, we conducted a systematic review to characterize CHTC uptake strategies. Five databases were searched. Full-text articles were included if they were: conducted in sub-Saharan Africa during the study period (1980-2019), targeted heterosexual couples, reported at least one strategy to promote CHTC and provided a quantifiable measure of CHTC uptake. After the initial and full-text screening, key features of the studies were abstracted and synthesized. RESULTS: Of the 6188 unique records found in our search, 365 underwent full-text review with 29 distinct studies included and synthesized. Most studies recruited couples through antenatal care (n = 11) or community venues (n = 8) and used provider-based HIV testing (n = 25). The primary demand creation strategies included home-based CHTC (n = 7); integration of CHTC into clinical settings (n = 4); distribution of HIV self-testing kits (n = 4); verbal or written invitations (n = 4); community recruiters (n = 3); partner tracing (n = 2); relationship counselling (n = 2); financial incentives (n = 1); group education with CHTC coupons (n = 1); and HIV testing at other community venues (n = 1). CHTC uptake ranged from negligible to nearly universal. DISCUSSION: We thematically categorized a diverse range of strategies with varying levels of intensity and resources used across sub-Saharan Africa to promote CHTC. Offering CHTC within couples’ homes was the most common approach, followed by the integration of CHTC into clinical settings. Due to heterogeneity in study characteristics, we were unable to compare the effectiveness across studies, but several trends were observed, including the high prevalence of CHTC promotion strategies in antenatal settings and the promising effects of home-based CHTC, distribution of HIV self-tests and integration of CHTC into routine health services. Since 2019, an updated literature search found that combining partner notification and secondary distribution of HIV self-test kits may be an additionally effective CHTC strategy. CONCLUSIONS: There are many effective, feasible and scalable approaches to promote CHTC that should be considered by national programmes according to local needs, cultural context and available resources.


Hampanda KM, Pelowich K, Freeborn K, Graybill LA, Mutale W, Jones KR, Saidi F, Kumwenda A, Kasaro M, Rosenberg NE, Chi BH




  • Population(s)
    • Women
    • Heterosexual men
    • General HIV- population
  • Testing
    • Testing
  • Health Systems
    • Delivery arrangements


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