Background: A 2007 training assessment conducted for the Mid-America Prevention Training Center (MAPTC) found that Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS) face a number of barriers when trying to engage gay and other men who have sex with men (GMSM) in partner services (PS), a key public health Intervention to help ensure that sexual and needle-sharing partners of persons diagnosed with HIV learn of their exposure and seek appropriate follow-up. In 2013, the MAPTC conducted a formative evaluation to identify strategies for increasing acceptance of PS among GMSM.
Methods: 101 GMSM in six larger metropolitan areas within the MAPTC catchment area were recruited to participate in facilitated focus group discussions that explored the nature of the gay community in each area, community norms related to HIV risk and status disclosure, impressions and experiences with PS, information needed to improve communication between gay men and PS providers, how PS should be structured to be perceived as beneficial, and additional services that should be available to GMSM at risk for or living with HIV. Focus group sessions were transcribed and analyzed for significant themes and patterns.
Results: Most participants agreed that notifying partners was a desirable practice but expressed concerns about the manner that this is done by PS providers. Participants related positive PS experiences but these were much fewer in number compared to reported negative experiences. Participants stressed that the service needs of persons living with HIV be addressed before focusing on identifying partners in need of notification. Participants offered many recommendations to improve PS delivery including recommending that GMSM actively participate in designing and implementing PS activities.
Conclusions: The focus group discussions supported DIS perceptions that barriers exist to effectively engaging GMSM in PS. The formative evaluation identified changes to PS that if implemented could improve PS delivered to GMSM.