The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is executing a highly ambitious research project to support the prevention and treatment of HIV among adolescent populations in Zimbabwe. The programme is a cluster-randomised control trial, including intervention and endline prevalence surveys that will enable the evaluation of the proposed methodology at a population scale.
However, the challenges in large-scale HIV research programmes are pervasive. Previous similar studies of health programmes found that up to 35% of records were found to be “unsatisfactory and inaccurate” (Mahmoud & Ayub, 2010). The 2013 Zimbabwe Stigma Index showed that 65.5% of the study respondents reported that they had experienced one or more forms of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, and higher levels of stigma have been associated with reduced levels of HIV testing in South Africa and with lower levels of ART adherence in east and southern Africa.
Research assistants are using Simprints to protect the privacy of study participants who might otherwise hesitate to be openly associated with seeking sexual and reproductive healthcare (SRH) and/or supportive services for HIV/AIDS. Biometrics enables the intervention to be ‘youth-friendly’ and limits the amount of identifying information (date of birth, sex, initials) that needs to be collected in order to provide services and follow clients over time. At the same time, biometrics will ensure data integrity and reliability of the study conclusions.
This 3-year study will end in 2021, with final evaluation of programme success concluding in 2022.