During a period of evolving international consensus on how to engage communities in research, facilitators and barriers to participation in HIV prevention research were explored in a rural plantation community in the coastal region of Cameroon.
A formative rapid assessment using structured observations, focus group discussions (FGD), and key informant interviews (KIIs) was conducted with a purposive non-probabilistic sample of plantation workers and their household members. Eligibility criteria included living or working >1 year within the plantation community and age >18 years. Both rapid and in-depth techniques were used to complete thematic analysis.
Sixty-five persons participated in the study (6 FGDs and 12 KIIs). Participants viewed malaria and gastrointestinal conditions as more common health concerns than HIV. They identified three factors as contributing to HIV risk: concurrent sexual relationships, sex work, and infrequent condom use. Interviewees perceived that the community would participate in HIV research if it is designed to: (1) improve community welfare, (2) provide comprehensive health services and treatment for illnesses, (3) protect the personal information of participants, especially those who test positive for HIV, (4) provide participant incentives, (5) incorporate community input, and (6) minimize disruptions to “everyday life”. Barriers to participation included: (1) fear of HIV testing, (2) mistrust of researchers given possible disrespect or intolerance of plantation community life and lack of concern for communication, (3) time commitment demands, (3) medical care and treatment that would be difficult or costly to access, and (4) life disruptions along with potential requirements for changes in behaviour (i.e., engage in or abstain from alcohol use and sex activities).
Consistent with UNAIDS guidelines for good participatory practice in HIV prevention research, study participants placed a high premium on researchers’ politeness, trust, respect, communication, tolerance and empathy towards their community. Plantation community members viewed provision of comprehensive health services as an important community benefit likely to enhance HIV research participation.