According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, 37.9 million people were living with HIV globally. More than two-thirds were residing in sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV prevalence in the adult population (aged 15-49 years) was 3.9%. This population included 1.3 million pregnant women, of whom 82% had received antiretroviral therapy (ART) for the prevention of HIV mother-to-child transmission. In these countries, one challenge is an insufficient level of treatment adherence, particularly in HIV-positive pregnant women. Among the causes, the lack of involvement from a male partner is a significant contributor to the problem. This issue has strongly emerged in Malawi, one of the countries with the highest HIV prevalence in the world: 9.2% of its adult population were living with HIV in 2018.
This study aims to assess 3 interventions that are aimed at improving ART adherence and retention among HIV-positive women through engagement with their male partners in 4 Malawian health care centers.
The prospective, controlled before-and-after study is conducted in 3 phases (total duration: 24 months): preintervention, intervention, and postintervention analyses. The number of selected clusters (clinical centers) is limited to 4: one for each intervention, plus a cluster where no intervention is performed (control arm). The interventions are as follows: opening the facility on one Saturday per month only for men, defined as a special day; testing peer-to-peer counseling among men, male champions; and providing a noneconomic incentive to all women who are accompanied by their partners to the facility, nudge. The primary outcome of the study is to evaluate the differences in retention in care and adherence to therapeutic protocols among women; the intermediate outcome is the assessment of differences in male involvement. The level of male involvement in the health of their partners (intermediate outcome) will be evaluated through a dedicated questionnaire administered at baseline and in the postintervention phase. Data will be collected at the clinical centers and stored in 2 electronic databases managed using 2 different types of software.
The analysis of data collected in the 4 centers during the preintervention phase is ongoing, as enrollment ended on March 31, 2020. The total number of patients enrolled was 452 (Namandanje: 133; Kapeni: 78; Kapire: 75; and Balaka: 166). Meanwhile, several meetings have been conducted to organize the intervention phase.
The study will identify the best intervention that enhances the involvement of male partners in women’s health, using an approach that considers a broad spectrum of behaviors. An important aspect is the use of educational tools focused on messages, thereby initiating a reflective discussion of stereotypes and false beliefs related to the idea of masculinity present in the Malawian culture.