HIV counselling and testing is a key component of both HIV care and HIV prevention, but uptake is currently low. We investigated the impact of rapid HIV testing at the workplace on uptake of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT).
Methods and Findings
The study was a cluster-randomised trial of two VCT strategies, with business occupational health clinics as the unit of randomisation. VCT was directly offered to all employees, followed by 2 y of open access to VCT and basic HIV care. Businesses were randomised to either on-site rapid HIV testing at their occupational clinic (11 businesses) or to vouchers for off-site VCT at a chain of free-standing centres also using rapid tests (11 businesses). Baseline anonymised HIV serology was requested from all employees.
HIV prevalence was 19.8% and 18.4%, respectively, at businesses randomised to on-site and off-site VCT. In total, 1,957 of 3,950 employees at clinics randomised to on-site testing had VCT (mean uptake by site 51.1%) compared to 586 of 3,532 employees taking vouchers at clinics randomised to off-site testing (mean uptake by site 19.2%). The risk ratio for on-site VCT compared to voucher uptake was 2.8 (95% confidence interval 1.8 to 3.8) after adjustment for potential confounders. Only 125 employees (mean uptake by site 4.3%) reported using their voucher, so that the true adjusted risk ratio for on-site compared to off-site VCT may have been as high as 12.5 (95% confidence interval 8.2 to 16.8).
High-impact VCT strategies are urgently needed to maximise HIV prevention and access to care in Africa. VCT at the workplace offers the potential for high uptake when offered on-site and linked to basic HIV care. Convenience and accessibility appear to have critical roles in the acceptability of community-based VCT.
Since the first case of AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) was reported 25 years ago, AIDS has become a major worldwide epidemic, with 3 million people dying from it in 2005. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is usually spread through unprotected sex with an infected partner. HIV damages the immune system, leaving infected individuals unable to fight off other viruses and bacteria. HIV infections can be treated with drugs know as “antiretrovirals,” and in an effort to deal with the global epidemic, world leaders have committed themselves to providing universal access to these drugs for everyone who needs them by 2010. Unfortunately, although access to antiretrovirals is rapidly increasing, so is the number of people infected with HIV. Last year, there were about 5 million new HIV infections, suggesting that more emphasis on prevention will be needed to halt or reverse the spread of HIV and AIDS. An important part of prevention is testing for HIV infection, but globally only 10% of people who need testing can access it. And even where such services are available, few people use them because of the stigma attached to HIV infection and fear of discrimination.
Why Was This Study Done?
There is limited understanding about the factors that determine whether an individual will decide to have an HIV test. Yet, to reduce HIV spread, as many people at risk of infection must be tested as possible. Previous studies on VCT—a combination of voluntary testing and counseling about the implications of HIV infection and how to avoid transmitting the virus—have indicated that the convenience of getting the test, whether the test is directly offered, and the attitude of staff supplying it are all very important. In this study, the researchers asked whether providing VCT in the workplace could improve the “uptake” of HIV testing in Africa, where the HIV/AIDS epidemic is most widespread.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified businesses with occupational health clinics in Zimbabwe, a country where 25% of adults carry HIV, and divided them into two “intervention” groups. Employees at half the businesses were offered “on-site VCT”—pre-test counseling followed by same-day on-site rapid testing, results, and post-test counseling. Employees at the other businesses had the same pre-test counseling but were offered a voucher for an HIV test at an off-site testing center and a later appointment to discuss the results—so-called off-site VCT. Everyone had the same access to limited HIV care should they need it. Although half of the employees at the on-site VCT businesses took up the option of HIV testing, only a fifth of employees at the off-site VCT businesses accepted vouchers for testing, and only one in five of these people actually used their voucher. This means that on-site VCT resulted in about 12 times as many HIV tests as off-site VCT. In both interventions, most of the people who accepted testing did so soon after entering the study and very few people were tested more than once. Finally, people 25 years old or younger, manual workers, and single people were most likely to accept testing in both interventions.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results suggest that on-site VCT in the workplace might be one way to improve uptake of HIV testing in Africa from its current low level and that providing VCT intermittently might be as effective as continuous provision. Importantly, say the researchers, the results of their study show that a relatively minor change in accessibility to testing can translate into a major difference in test uptake. This may hold true in non-occupational settings. However, these observations need to be repeated in more businesses and other settings, including those where there is no linked HIV care, before they can be generalized. Also, this study reports on the acceptability of this approach to providing VCT, but not on its impact on HIV prevention. As such the results do not indicate whether workplace VCT prevents HIV spread as effectively as other ways of delivering VCT. This will require research investigating how HIV incidence among HIV-negative employees and the partners of HIV-positive employees are affected by different VCT strategies.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
• United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases factsheet on
HIV infection and AIDS
• United States Department of Health and Human Services information on
HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention, and research
• US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information on
• UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) information on
political issues related to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the 2004 UNAIDS/World Health Organization policy statement on
Aidsmap: information on HIV and AIDS provided by the charity NAM, which includes the latest scientific and political news
• MedlinePlus encyclopedia entry on
Voluntary counseling and testing for HIV has the potential for high uptake when it is offered on-site at the workplace and linked to basic HIV care.