The use of the telephone for the delivery of HIV prevention interventions

Although HIV infection can be prevented, every year a large number of people become newly infected with HIV. Interventions that teach people about HIV can change their attitudes and behaviour, and thereby prevent new HIV infections. These interventions often require people to go to health facilities, but barriers such as a lack of money, transport problems or stigma attached to HIV-positive serostatus can limit people's access to HIV prevention interventions. Landline or mobile phones calls can be used to potentially more effectively deliver HIV prevention interventions, because they may save people's time, reduce costs and give people easier access to healthcare.

The aim of this review was to assess the effectiveness HIV prevention interventions delivered by phone calls compared to the standard way of delivering care. After a comprehensive search of various scientific databases and other resources, we found only one relevant study. This study was done in sexual assault services in South Africa. Study participants were women and girls who were given medication to prevent HIV infection (so called 'post-exposure prophylaxis' or 'PEP') after they had been raped. The participants were divided into two groups: one group of participants only received standard care and participants in the other group were given standard care and support via telephone calls to help them take their HIV prevention medication. Overall, only about one third of the participants took their HIV prevention medication for 28 days. The participants who received the phone calls were not more likely to take their medication than participants who only received standard care. Also, the phone calls did not decrease the number of participants with depression and did not increase the number of participants who read an information pamphlet or returned to collect HIV prevention medication. Only a higher percentage of participants who received the calls used a medication diary compared to the participants who did not receive the calls. No harmful effects of this intervention were reported. We could not find any information about other relevant outcomes, such as participants’ and healthcare providers’ satisfaction with the telephone intervention or costs. We urgently need more studies conducted in various settings comparing the effectiveness of the phone calls to other ways of delivering HIV prevention interventions to prevent new HIV infections.

Authors' conclusions: 

We found only one RCT, with a moderate risk of bias, which showed that providing PEP support by phone calls did not result in higher adherence to PEP. However, the RCT was conducted in an upper-middle-income country with high HIV prevalence, on a high-risk population and the applicability of its results on other settings and contexts is unclear. There is a need for robust evidence from various settings on the effectiveness of using phone calls for providing PEP support and for other HIV prevention interventions.

Read the full abstract...

This is one of the three Cochrane reviews that examine the role of the telephone in HIV/AIDS services. Although HIV infection can be prevented, still a large number of new infections occur. More effective HIV prevention interventions are needed to reduce the number of people newly infected with HIV. Phone calls can be used to potentially more effectively deliver HIV prevention interventions. They have the potential to save time, reduce costs and facilitate easier access.


To assess the effectiveness of voice landline and mobile telephone delivered HIV prevention interventions in HIV-negative persons.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, PubMed Central, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Web of Science, Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health, the World Health Organization's Global Health Library and Current Controlled Trials from 1980 to June 2011. We searched the following grey literature sources: Dissertation Abstracts International and the Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International Direct Global Health database, the System for Information on Grey Literature Europe, The Healthcare Management Information Consortium, Google Scholar, Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections database, International AIDS Society conference database, AIDS Education Global Information System and reference lists of articles.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-randomised controlled trials, controlled before and after studies, and interrupted time series studies comparing the effectiveness of delivering HIV prevention by phone calls to usual care in HIV-negative people regardless of their demographic characteristics and in all settings.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two reviewers independently searched databases, screened citations, assessed study quality and extracted data. A third reviewer resolved any disagreement. Primary outcomes were knowledge about the causes and consequences of HIV/AIDS, change in behaviour, healthcare uptake and clinical outcomes. Secondary outcomes were users' and providers' views on the intervention, economic outcomes and adverse outcomes.

Main results: 

Out of 14,717 citations, only one study met the inclusion criteria. The included RCT recruited women and girl children who received post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) after rape from sexual assault services in South Africa between August 2007 and May 2008.

Participants (n (number) =274) were randomised into a telephone support (n=136) and control (n=138) group. Control group participants received usual care (an interactive information session) from the sexual assault service during the 28 days in which they had to take PEP, with no further contact from the study staff. Telephone support group participants received standard care and phone calls from a counsellor throughout the 28 days when they had to take PEP.

Overall, adherence to PEP was not significantly (P=0.13) different between the intervention (38.2%) and control (31.9 %) groups. Also, the proportion of participants who read a pamphlet, did not return to collect medication or with a depression were not significantly different between the intervention and control groups (P=0.006, P=0.42, P=0.72 respectively). The proportion of participants who used a diary was significantly (P=0.001) higher in the intervention group (78.8%) versus the control group (69.9%). The study authors reported that there were no recorded adverse events. The RCT did not provide information about participants’ and providers’ evaluation outcomes, or economic outcomes. The study had a moderate risk of bias.