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Original research
Syphilis self-testing to expand test uptake among men who have sex with men: a theoretically informed mixed methods study in Zimbabwe


Objectives Self-testing for STIs such as HIV and syphilis may empower sexual minorities and expand uptake of STI testing. While much is known about HIV self-testing (HIVST), less is known about syphilis self-testing, particularly in low-income settings. The objective of this study is to determine context-specific facilitators and barriers for self-testing and to assess the usability of syphilis self-testing in Zimbabwe among men who have sex with men (MSM).

Methods This mixed methods study was conducted in Harare as part of a larger syphilis self-testing trial. The study included in-depth interviews (phase I) followed by usability testing and a second interview (phase II). In-depth interviews were conducted with MSM and key informants prior to syphilis self-testing. The same MSM then used the syphilis self-test, quantitatively assessed its usability and participated in a second in-depth interview. Phase I data were analysed using a thematic approach, guided by an adapted social ecological model conceptual framework. Phase II interviews were analysed using rapid assessment procedure methodology, and usability was assessed using a pre-established index, adapted from existing HIVST scales.

Results Twenty MSM and 10 key informants were recruited for phase I in-depth interviews, and 16 of these MSM participated in phase II by completing a syphilis self-test kit. Facilitating factors for self-testing included the potential for increased privacy, convenience, autonomy, and avoidance of social and healthcare provider stigma. Barriers included the fear to test and uncertainty about linkage to care and treatment. Data from the Usability Index suggested high usability (89.6% on a 0–100 scale) among the men who received the self-test.

Conclusions MSM in Zimbabwe were willing to use syphilis self-test kits and many of the barriers and facilitators were similar to those observed for HIVST. Syphilis self-testing may increase syphilis test uptake among sexual minorities in Zimbabwe and other low-income and middle-income countries.

  • syphilis
  • diagnostic techniques and procedures
  • homosexuality
  • male
  • developing countries
  • sexual health

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. All individual patient data collected that underlie the results reported in this article will be available (text, tables, figures and appendices). Analytical codebooks and consent forms are also available upon request. These data will be available immediately following publication to researchers who provide a methodologically sound proposal. Proposals should be directed to To gain access, data requestors will need to sign a data access agreement.

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