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Background: Early HIV diagnosis and initiation onto antiretroviral therapy may prevent ongoing spread of HIV. Risk Tracing Snowball Approach (RTSA) has been shown to be effective in detecting new HIV cases in other settings. The main objective of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of RTSA in increasing the rate of newly identified HIV cases among high-risk populations. Our second objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of RTSA, as compared to the walk-in group, in increasing the number of HIV tests and early case detection.

Methods: This study was conducted from April 1 to September 30, 2016 at two NGO clinics in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Respondent driven sampling method was adapted to develop RTSA to reach high-risk populations, including key populations and the general population who have social connections with key populations. Bivariate and multivariate logistic regression analyses were conducted.

Results: During the implementation period, 721 clients walked in for HIV testing (walk-in group), and all were invited to be seeds. Of the invited clients, 36.6% agreed to serve as seeds. Throughout the implementation, 6195 coupons were distributed to seeds or recruiters, and resulted in 1572 clients visiting the two clinics with coupons (RTSA group), for a coupon return rate of 25.3%. The rate of newly identified HIV cases among the RTSA group was significantly lower compared to that in walk-in group. However, the highest number of newly identified HIV cases was found during the implementation period, compared to both pre- and post-implementation period. Although statistically not significant, the mean CD4 count of newly identified HIV cases detected through RTSA was almost 200 cells/mm3 higher than that in the walk-in group.

Conclusions: Although the rate of newly identified HIV cases among the RTSA group was lower than that in the walk-in group, the inclusion of RTSA in addition to the traditional walk-in method boosted new HIV case detection in the two participating clinics. A higher mean CD4 count for the RTSA group may reveal that RTSA may be able to detect HIV cases earlier than the traditional walk-in approach. Further research is needed to understand whether RTSA is a cost-effective intervention to prevent ongoing spread of the HIV among high-risk populations in Cambodia.

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Originally published in BMC Infectious Diseases, 7 [Article 689]. Licensed under CC BY 4.0. The original material can be found here.