This qualitative study explored how to optimise a couples-focused intervention to promote couples HIV testing and counselling (CHTC).
Community setting in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa.
Qualitative interviews were conducted with 20 couples who had participated in a couples-focused intervention and five staff members delivering the intervention. Partners were interviewed individually by researchers of the same gender.
A couples-focused intervention comprised of two group sessions and four couples counselling sessions was previously shown to significantly increase uptake to CHTC in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. However, more than half of couples participating in the intervention still chose not to test together during follow-up.
The transcripts were analysed using the table of changes from the person-based approach. Proposed optimisations were discussed with a community group to ensure the intervention was as persuasive and acceptable as possible.
Many couples found it challenging to discuss CHTC with their partner due to an implied lack of trust. Optimisations to the intervention were identified to increase readiness to discuss CHTC, including education about serodiscordance, discussions about CHTC by peer mentors and open discussion of personal barriers to CHTC during couples’ counselling sessions. Additional training for staff in open questioning techniques could help them feel more comfortable to explore couples’ perceived barriers to CHTC, rather than advising couples to test. A logic model was developed to show anticipated mechanisms through which the optimised intervention would increase uptake to CHTC, including increasing knowledge, increasing positive outcome beliefs and managing negative emotions.
In-depth qualitative research informed optimisations to a couples-focused intervention for further evaluation in South Africa to encourage uptake to CHTC. Suggestions are made for optimal methods to gain open feedback on intervention experiences where participants may be reluctant to share negative views.