Development and acceptability of a tablet-based app to support men to link to HIV care: Mixed methods approach

Thulile Mathenjwa, Oluwafemi Adeagbo, Thembelihle Zuma, Keabetswe Dikgale, Anya Zeitlin, Philippa Matthews, Janet Seeley, Sally Wyke, Frank Tanser, Maryam Shahmanesh, Ann Blandford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The poor engagement of men with HIV care is attributed to a number of factors: fear of stigma, masculine representations, concerns related to confidentiality, and the time commitment needed to visit public health clinics. Digital technologies are emerging as an approach to support the engagement of men with care. Objective: This study aims to deliver a usable and engaging tablet-based app, called EPIC-HIV 2 (Empowering People through Informed Choices for HIV 2), to support men in making informed decisions about engaging with HIV care in rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Methods: We employed a mixed methods, iterative, and three-phased design that was guided by self-determination theory (SDT), a person-based approach, and human-computer interaction techniques. We reviewed related literature and conducted secondary analyses of existing data to identify barriers and facilitators to linkage to care and inform content development and design principles and used focus group discussions with members of the community advisory board and general community to evaluate a PowerPoint prototype of the app; used observations and guided questions with a convenience sample of potential users from the intervention community to iteratively test and refine a functioning interactive app; and conducted qualitative interviews and satisfaction surveys with actual users to evaluate acceptability. Results: Phase 1 identified supply- and demand-side barriers to linkage to care. Specifically, clinics were feminized spaces unattractive to men with high social costs of attendance. Men did not feel vulnerable to HIV, preferred traditional medicine, and were afraid of the consequences of being HIV positive. Thus, the app needed to allow men to identify the long-term health benefits to themselves and their families of starting antiretroviral therapy early and remaining on it, and these benefits typically outweigh the social costs of attending and being seen at a clinic. SDT led to content design that emphasized long-term benefits but at the same time supported the need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness and informed decision making. Phase 2 indicated that we needed to use simpler text and more images to help users understand and navigate the app. Phase 3 indicated that the app was acceptable and likely to encourage men to link to care. Conclusions: We found that iteratively developing the app with potential users using local narratives ensured that EPIC-HIV 2 is usable, engaging, and acceptable. Although the app encouraged men to link to HIV care, it was insufficient as a stand-alone intervention for men in our sample to exercise their full autonomy to link to HIV care without other factors such as it being convenient to initiate treatment, individual experiences of HIV, and support. Combining tailored digital interventions with other interventions to address a range of barriers to HIV care, especially supply-side barriers, should be considered in the future to close the present linkage gap in the HIV treatment cascade.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17549
JournalJMIR mHealth and uHealth
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Digital technologies
  • HIV
  • Linkage to HIV care
  • Men
  • Mobile phone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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