Behavior change communication (BCC) interventions, while still a necessary component of HIV prevention, have not on their own been shown to be sufficient to stem the tide of the epidemic. The shortcomings of BCC interventions are partly due to barriers arising from structural or economic constraints. Arguments are being made for combination prevention packages that include behavior change, biomedical, and structural interventions to address the complex set of risk factors that may lead to HIV infection.
In 2009/2010 we conducted 216 in-depth interviews with a subset of study participants enrolled in the RESPECT study - an HIV prevention trial in Tanzania that used cash awards to incentivize safer sexual behaviors. We analyzed community diaries to understand how the study was perceived in the community. We drew on these data to enhance our understanding of how the intervention influenced strategies for risk reduction.
We found that certain situations provide increased leverage for sexual negotiation, and these situations facilitated opportunistic implementation of risk reduction strategies. Opportunities enabled by the RESPECT intervention included leveraging conditional cash awards, but participants also emphasized the importance of exploiting new health status knowledge from regular STI testing. Risk reduction strategies included condom use within partnerships and/or with other partners, and an unexpected emphasis on temporary abstinence.
Our results highlight the importance of increasing opportunities for implementing risk reduction strategies. We found that an incentive-based intervention could be effective in part by creating such opportunities, particularly among groups such as women with limited sexual agency. The results provide new evidence that expanding regular testing of STIs is another important mechanism for providing opportunities for negotiating behavior change, beyond the direct benefits of testing. Exploiting the latent demand for STI testing should receive renewed attention as part of innovative new combination interventions for HIV prevention.