Making It Count choice four concerns telling sexual partners about HIV/STI infections, both retrospectively (following diagnosis) or prospectively (preceding sex).
All STI/HIV infections are picked up from someone who already has the infection. When someone picks up an infection, they probably do so from someone who had not yet themselves had it diagnosed. If someone diagnosed with an infection has had more than one sex partner since their last STI screening, they may have passed their infection on to someone else. So former or recent sexual partners of people diagnosed with an STI are at high risk of having an undiagnosed infection. Sharing knowledge of STI/HIV diagnoses with former sexual partners alerts those partners to their high risk status and they can seek testing.
Social marketing can aim to create a social environment in which partner notification on diagnosis is regarded as the normal, right and easy thing to do by associating it with valued benefits, minimising its salient costs, and portraying it in terms desirable to the target audience.
Prevalence of partner notification
In Month 3 of the Sigma Panel, members were asked about their experience of partner notification and of its perceived costs and benefits.
Men were asked Have you EVER been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection? Overall, 61.3% said ‘yes’ (1057/1724). These men were asked Have you ever contacted a sexual partner to let them know you have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection? Of the men who had been diagnosed with an infection 71.6% (755/1055, missing 2) said they had done so (or 43.8% of all respondents).
Similarly, men were asked Has any sexual partner of yours ever contacted you to let you know that they have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection? Overall, 35.1% said they had been contacted. This is less than the 43.8% who said they had notified a partner.
Those who had contacted a partner to let them know of a diagnosis, and those who had been contacted, were asked when the last time these events had occurred. The following figure shows the proportion of all Panel members who had done so within increasing time periods.
More men in the Sigma Panel had notified than had been notified. This may be a function of recall (men are more likely to remember notifying than being notified). It may also reflect disproportionate recruitment to the Panel of notifiers compared to non-notifiers.
The majority of men who had notified a partner had done so more than a year ago, but 12% of all respondents had done so within the last year.
INSIGHT: Partner notification is a common but infrequent experience for MSM.
Benefits of notifying a partner
All panel members were asked the open-ended question From your perspective, what are the potential benefits (or advantages) of contacting a sexual partner to let them know you have been diagnosed with an STI?” (1599 men responded), and an identical question about ‘the potential costs (or disadvantages)’ of notifying a partner (1550 men responded).
The following table summarises the range of potential benefits and costs cited by Panel members: