Despite the introduction of free antiretroviral therapy (ART), the use of voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) services remains persistently low in many African countries. This study investigates how prior experience of HIV and VCT, and knowledge about HIV and ART influence VCT use in rural Tanzania.
In 2006–7, VCT was offered to study participants during the fifth survey round of an HIV community cohort study that includes HIV testing for research purposes without results disclosure, and a questionnaire covering knowledge, attitudes and practices around HIV infection and HIV services. Categorical variables were created for HIV knowledge and ART knowledge, with “good” HIV and ART knowledge defined as correctly answering at least 4/6 and 5/7 questions about HIV and ART respectively. Experience of HIV was defined as knowing people living with HIV, or having died from AIDS. Logistic regression methods were used to assess how HIV and ART knowledge, and prior experiences of HIV and VCT were associated with VCT uptake, with adjustment for HIV status and socio-demographic confounders.
2,695/3,886 (69%) men and 2,708/5,575 women (49%) had “good” HIV knowledge, while 613/3,886 (16%) men and 585/5575 (10%) women had “good” ART knowledge. Misconceptions about HIV transmission were common, including through kissing (55% of women, 43% of men), or mosquito bites (42% of women, 34% of men).
19% of men and 16% of women used VCT during the survey. After controlling for HIV status and socio-demographic factors, the odds of VCT use were lower among those with poor HIV knowledge (aOR = 0.5; p = 0.01 for men and aOR = 0.6; p < 0.01 for women) and poor ART knowledge (aOR = 0.8; p = 0.06 for men, aOR = 0.8; p < 0.01 for women), and higher among those with HIV experience (aOR = 1.3 for men and aOR = 1.6 for women, p < 0.01) and positive prior VCT experience (aOR = 2.0 for all men and aOR = 2.0 for HIV-negative women only, p < 0.001).
Two years after the introduction of free ART in this setting, misconceptions regarding HIV transmission remain rife and knowledge regarding treatment is worryingly poor, especially among women and HIV-positive people. Further HIV-related information, education and communication activities are urgently needed to improve VCT uptake in rural Tanzania.