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Testing a social network approach to promote HIV self-testing and linkage to care among fishermen at Lake Victoria: study protocol for the Owete cluster randomized controlled trial



Nearly 50% of men living with HIV in many countries are unaware of their HIV status; men also have lower uptake of HIV treatment and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). In SSA, highly mobile men such as those working in fishing communities alongside Lake Victoria have low uptake of HIV testing and low rates of linkage to HIV treatment and PrEP, despite increasing availability of these services. HIV self-testing (HIVST) kits hold promise for overcoming barriers to HIV testing and linkage to services for HIV-positive and HIV-negative men. We describe here a protocol for an HIV status-neutral, social network-based approach to promote HIV testing, linkage to care and prevention, and better health outcomes, including adherence, in fishermen around Lake Victoria.


Utilizing beach management unit (BMU) registries of fishermen operating in three Lake Victoria fishing communities in Siaya County, Kenya, we completed a census and social network mapping to identify close social networks of men. Network clusters identified by a socially-central lead ("promotor") and selected to ensure maximal separation between treatment and control will be randomized. Promotors in both arms will receive basic HIV training; intervention promotors are further trained in HIVST to distribute kits to their cluster, while control promotors will distribute to their cluster vouchers for free HIVST at nearby clinics. We will test whether these promoters can enhance linkage to ART and PrEP after self-testing, thereby addressing a key limitation of HIVST. We will also measure 6- and 12-month viral load in those living with HIV and PrEP adherence among those without HIV via urine tenofovir levels as objective markers of adherence.


This study has the potential to improve HIV health and promote HIV prevention among a hard to reach, at-risk, and highly mobile population of men in Western Kenya-a critical population in Kenya's HIV prevention and treatment program. Further, if successful, this innovative social networks-based model could be scaled at the regional level to address HIV prevention and care among similarly at-risk populations of men in eastern Africa and inland fisheries settings across the continent.

Trial registration

Self-Test Strategies and Linkage Incentives to Improve ART and PrEP Uptake in Men, registered on February 26, 2021, registration # NCT04772469 .

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