July 22, 2015

Cash compensation encourages uptake of circumcision, PMTCT services

Written by Keith Alcorn

This post originally appeared on NAM’s website.

Cash compensation can improve the uptake of key HIV prevention services in sub-Saharan Africa, results from two randomised studies show. The studies were presented on Tuesday at the Eighth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2015) in Vancouver, Canada.

A randomised trial conducted in Nyanza province, Kenya, showed that offering compensation in the form of food vouchers resulted in a significantly higher uptake of medical male circumcision, while a second randomised trial conducted in Democratic Republic of Congo showed that providing modest cash incentives significantly increased retention in services for prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT).


Building demand for medical male circumcision is essential if national programmes are to reach their targets for circumcision coverage, especially among young men aged over 20, who often cite concerns about lost wages and time away from work as reasons why they have not opted for medical male circumcision. Providing economic incentives might encourage men to opt for circumcision, but the size of the reward and the timing of the offer are likely to influence the success of any incentives.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill designed a study targeting young men aged 21-39 in which they compared the immediate incentive of compensation with the future-oriented opportunity of a large-value prize, in order to test which approach generated greater demand.

The study randomised participants to one of three groups:

  • Men offered vouchers worth $12.50 for exchange at local food shops if they underwent circumcision, as compensation for income lost while attending the clinic.
  • Men offered entry to a lottery to win much larger-value prizes if they underwent circumcision (including a 5% chance of winning a bicycle or a smartphone, or other easier-to-win rewards).
  • A control group of men who were offered circumcision and who received a food voucher worth $0.60 after circumcision.

The study enrolled 909 uncircumcised men with an average age of 29 in eight districts in western Kenya, where a well-established service provides medical male circumcision. Median daily earnings were $3.80.

Compensation in the form of food vouchers proved to be more successful than lottery entry in encouraging men to get circumcised – but the effect was strongest in men who were already considering whether to get circumcised. Men offered vouchers were almost seven times more likely to get circumcised compared to the control group (adjusted odds ratio 7.1; 95% CI 2.4-20.8). However, uptake was still modest: 8% of those randomised to receive an offer of vouchers chose to get circumcised, compared to 1.3% of the control group (four men). However, this increase was large relative to the annual uptake of circumcision in the local population.

Men who were not contemplating circumcision were not persuaded by the offer of compensation to come forward; the intervention ‘nudged’ those already considering circumcision, Harsha Thirumurthy of University of North Carolina said. But, interviews with men who did not seek circumcision suggest that a larger sum of compensation might have persuaded a larger number of men, and that the compensation offered was more persuasive for those with the lowest incomes.

There was no significant difference in circumcision uptake between the lottery group and the control group, probably because of what behavioural economists call ‘ambiguity aversion’ – aversion to the risk that there might be no reward at the end of the process.

In contrast, a study of a lottery-based intervention in Lesotho found that young women – but not young men – were significantly less likely to acquire HIV if they were entered into a four-monthly lottery after testing negative for syphilis and trichomonas on a regular basis. Lottery entrants had a 40% lower incidence of HIV over two years of follow up.

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