Integration of a Relationship-focused Counseling Intervention with Delivery of the Dapivirine Ring for HIV Prevention to Women in Johannesburg: Results of the CHARISMA Pilot Study

Biomedical, female-initiated HIV prevention methods can help reduce disproportionately high HIV rates among women in sub-Saharan Africa, but male partner resistance and intimate partner violence (IPV) may impact ability to ensure effective use. To support consistent use of the dapivirine vaginal ring (VR), we pilot-tested the impact of the CHARISMA relationship counseling intervention ("CHARISMA") with women enrolled in the multi-site open-label Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) 025/HOPE trial at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Research Institute (Wits RHI) site in Johannesburg, South Africa. Lay counselors used a 42-item tool with five subscales to assess relationships and IPV and provide tailored counseling at enrolment, followed by a booster counselling session at Month 1 and follow-up checks at Months 3 and 6. We evaluated potential impact by examining self-reported ring disclosure to partners, partner clinic attendance, self-reported incident social harms (SH) and IPV, and biomarkers of ring adherence at Wits RHI. We subsequently compared these outcomes at three comparator HOPE study sites using multivariable regression models. Comparator study sites were purposively selected as those most similar to Wits RHI for baseline characteristics identified a priori. At Wits RHI, 95 of 96 (99%) HOPE participants enrolled into the CHARISMA pilot study. Mean age was 30, 36.8% lived with a partner, and 85.3% received their partner's financial support. During the six months of pilot study follow-up, participants reported: ring use disclosure to partners at 72.7% visits; 4.3% partners attending the research clinic; one partner-related SH; and 9.5% experienced incident IPV. The mean level of dapivirine released from returned used rings was 3.4 mg (SD 1.56), suggesting moderate adherence. Participants in the CHARISMA pilot had high background prevalence and incidence of IPV but were nevertheless able to adhere to ring use, and some male partners came to the research clinic. In adjusted regression models, compared to Wits RHI, partner clinic attendance was lower at all comparator sites; and significantly so at Site A (aRR 0.12, 95% CI 0.00-0.98). Sites B and C had lower levels of dapivirine released (suggesting lower adherence), but this difference was not significant. Site B women were more likely to report ring disclosure to partners at FU visits (aRR 1.12, 95% CI 1.00-1.25). IPV reported during follow-up was significantly lower at Site B (aRR 0.20, 95% CI 0.04-0.98, p = 0.047). CHARISMA taught women skills to decide on levels of ring-use disclosure to partners or others; therefore it is difficult to interpret differences in ring disclosure to partners with other sites. Similarly, CHARISMA heightened participants' awareness of abuse, possibly increasing IPV reports. Testing CHARISMA under fully-powered controlled conditions will improve understanding of its impact on women's relationships and ability to use female-initiated HIV prevention methods.

Montgomery, E. T., Roberts, S. T., Reddy, K., Tolley, E., Hartmann, M., Wilson, E., Mathebula, F., Wagner, L. D., Zissette, S., Lanham, M., Wilcher, R., Baeten, J. M., & Palanee-Phillips, T. (2021). Integration of a Relationship-focused Counseling Intervention with Delivery of the Dapivirine Ring for HIV Prevention to Women in Johannesburg: Results of the CHARISMA Pilot Study. AIDS and Behavior.

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Sarah T. Roberts


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