5,000 more gay and bi men needed to take part in HIV self-testing study

A major HIV self-testing study in England and Wales led by UCL, has successfully reached the halfway milestone in recruiting 5,000 gay and bisexual men and transgender people.

The SEPLHI (An HIV Self-Testing Public Health Intervention) study is now calling on the community to help reach its target of 10,000 to help combat high levels of undiagnosed HIV.

The trial, run by UCL, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Public Health England, seeks to discover whether providing free HIV self-tests to people can reduce the number of gay and bisexual men as well as transgender people who have undiagnosed HIV. Currently 1 in 8 gay and bisexual men are living with HIV and unaware, risking their own health and passing the virus onto others.

Funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), SELPHI is an internet-based study that is being promoted through apps such a Grindr and Hornet, Facebook, with participants signing up through an online survey.

Researchers hope the results of the study will help the NHS decide whether it should provide free HIV self-testing kits to help the fight against HIV. The majority of people who register to join the trial will receive a free HIV self-testing kit, with selected participants testing a sample of their blood at home. Currently most HIV tests are conducted in sexual health clinics. It is thought that some may be more likely to test, and to do so more often, using the HIV self-testing kits, because this method is more private, quick and convenient than visiting a clinic.

Prof Sheena McCormack

Prof Sheena McCormack

Professor Sheena McCormack (MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL), joint study lead with Dr Alison Rodger (UCL Institute for Global Health), said: “We’re finally starting to see early signs that we are turning the tide on new HIV infections amongst gay men. However, over half of men who have sex with men test less frequently than recommended and around a quarter have not done so at all. This is why 1 in 7 of those with HIV are unaware of their status.

“We know much less about HIV testing in transgender people, but we do know that this group faces additional barriers to seeking help for their sexual health. HIV self-testing may meet some of these challenges and alongside developments like PrEP give us the tools we need to finally reach zero HIV infections.”

Co-researcher Michelle Gabriel (MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL), explained: “We’ve been thrilled by the enthusiastic response from participants in SELPHI. Those who have taken part have told us how much they value having a convenient and private testing method that they control. Many have enjoyed using a new technology and were surprised at how easy the test was to perform. We’ve also had people come forward and tell us that they really like being part of a study which will have such a major impact for public health around the world.”

Dr Rodger joint lead on the trial, added: “Although previous studies have shown that self‑testing is acceptable and increases uptake of testing amongst gay men, SELPHI is the first one designed to see if there is an impact on HIV diagnoses. This is why this study is so important.”

The SELPHI trial is still open to recruitment now, and needs 5,000 more gay and bisexual men, and transgender people to join the trial before the end of the year.

People taking part can join the study by clicking here:

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