Zimbabwe, like many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, faces the harsh reality of the HIV epidemic. With a substantial portion of the population affected by the virus, innovative approaches are urgently needed to combat its devastating impact.
At the heart of this pioneering initiative lies the promotion of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as a highly effective method for preventing HIV transmission among men. PrEP involves the use of antiretroviral medication by individuals who are at high risk of acquiring the virus. By adhering to a daily regimen, men can significantly reduce their chances of acquiring HIV infection, enabling them to take control of their sexual health and ultimately prevent onward transmission of HIV to their partners.
Professor Frank Tanser, a distinguished Epidemiologist and the Programme Director of Population Health Innovation at the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI), who co-leads the project, emphasizes the importance of this initiative: “HIV is still prevalent, but we possess the knowledge and tools to make a significant impact. By engaging men through innovative strategies like PrEP, we can empower them to protect their sexual health and contribute to curbing the HIV epidemic."
Led by Tanser in collaboration with the Biomedical Research Training Institute (BRTI) in Zimbabwe and other international partners from Africa, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the USA, this project aims to address the challenges faced by men in preventing HIV transmission. The team of researchers seek to establish the impact of HIV self-test distribution through male social networks, coupled with innovative community-based support on PrEP uptake among men in Eastern Zimbabwe. The objective is to engage hard-to-reach men and decrease barriers to the uptake of male HIV testing and prevention by reducing the need for engagement with clinics. By leveraging male peer networks for HIV self-testing distribution, the project aims to ignite curiosity and empower men to take charge of their sexual health.
Initial distributors, identified by the team, will receive an HIV self-test kit for personal use and additional kits to distribute to their peers, creating a ripple effect of awareness and prevention throughout the male community. With HIV self-testing, phone-based support, and improved risk perception, the project seeks to expedite PrEP initiation at local clinics, making it more accessible to men who may otherwise face barriers to traditional healthcare services.
By combining innovative technology and community-driven initiatives, the team challenges the existing stigma surrounding HIV prevention and empowers men to make informed decisions about their sexual wellbeing.
As Zimbabwe grapples with the HIV epidemic, the project offers hope for a brighter future. By fostering curiosity and empowering men through innovative HIV-prevention strategies, particularly with the use of PrEP, this pioneering initiative envisions a day when the epidemic no longer casts a shadow over the nation's health. With the potential to shape HIV prevention approaches in high-incidence regions, the project has the power to save countless lives and drive Zimbabwe closer to a future free from the burdens of HIV. The research findings hold promise for the development of a generalisable, multicomponent male peer-based HIV self-testing and PrEP uptake model that could be applied in other high HIV incidence settings, bringing hope for progress in the global fight against HIV.