BACKGROUND: Sub-Saharan African Migrants (SAM) are the second largest group affected by HIV/AIDS in Belgium and the rest of Western Europe. Increasing evidence shows that, more than previously thought, SAM are acquiring HIV in their host countries. This calls for a renewed focus on primary prevention. Yet, knowledge on the magnitude of the HIV epidemic among SAM (HIV prevalence estimates and proportions of undiagnosed HIV infections) and underlying drivers are scarce and limit the development of such interventions.
OBJECTIVE: By applying a community-based participatory and mixed-methods approach, the TOGETHER project aims to deepen our understanding of HIV transmission dynamics, as well as inform future primary prevention interventions for this target group.
METHODS: The TOGETHER project consists of a cross-sectional study to assess HIV prevalence and risk factors among SAM visiting community settings in Antwerp city, Belgium, and links an anonymous electronic self-reported questionnaire to oral fluid samples. Three formative studies informed this method: (1) a social mapping of community settings using an adaptation of the PLACE method; (2) a multiple case study aiming to identify factors that increase risk and vulnerability for HIV infection by triangulating data from life history interviews, lifelines, and patient files; and (3) an acceptability and feasibility study of oral fluid sampling in community settings using participant observations.
RESULTS: Results have been obtained from 4 interlinked studies and will be described in future research.
CONCLUSIONS: Combining empirically tested and innovative epidemiological and social science methods, this project provides the first HIV prevalence estimates for a representative sample of SAM residing in a West European city. By triangulating qualitative and quantitative insights, the project will generate an in-depth understanding of the factors that increase risk and vulnerability for HIV infection among SAM. Based on this knowledge, the project will identify priority subgroups within SAM communities and places for HIV prevention. Adopting a community-based participatory approach throughout the full research process should increase community ownership, investment, and mobilization for HIV prevention.