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Assisted Partner Notification Leads to an Increase in HIV Testing Services

Updated 8/21/17 at 4:00 PM EST.

Although 17 million people worldwide are being treated for HIV with antiretroviral drugs (ART), estimates are that 19 million people who have HIV don’t know that they have it. Clearly, gaps exist in diagnosis and treatment that must be addressed, especially as one of the goals of the United Nations is to ensure that 90% of people worldwide who have HIV are diagnosed by 2020. To meet this objective, it’s crucial that newly diagnosed patients reach out to their sexual or injecting-drug partners to inform them of their risk.

A newly diagnosed patient has a few options in this area. Passive referral, which involves a healthcare provider encouraging a newly-diagnosed person to let past and current partners know of the diagnosis and recommend testing, and assisted partner notification, which, in its various forms, has the provider play an active role in letting the patient’s partners know they may be at risk and encouraging testing. Is one method better than another when it comes to such a fraught and emotional experience?

As it turns out, yes. A team of researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO), the Medical University of South Carolina, and Johns Hopkins University, along with an independent clinical epidemiologist in South Africa, found that assisted partner notification resulted in a 1.5-fold increase in the number of partners who took advantage of HIV testing. The team gathered published studies and pooled results from 5150 patients from 8 different countries to learn the outcomes that resulted from the notification process, including whether partners got tested, how many were diagnosed with HIV themselves, partners’ viral-load measurements, whether partners with HIV received ART, and whether partners who were not diagnosed with HIV pursued the opportunity to learn about HIV prevention.

Big advances in treatment can