Cash compensation encourages uptake of circumcision, PMTCT services

Image from presentation by Harsha Thirumurthy, at IAS 2015.
Keith Alcorn
Published: 22 July 2015

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.

Prevention of mother to child transmission

A study conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo found that offering women living with HIV small but escalating cash incentives for repeat attendance at antenatal clinic and uptake of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services improved retention and uptake.

The study recruited pregnant women with diagnosed HIV prior to week 32 of pregnancy and randomised them to receive either cash compensation at each clinic visit or to a control group which received standard interventions for prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Women in the intervention group were offered $5 at the first visit, and at each subsequent visit this compensation increased by $1. Compensation was dependent on attendance at antenatal clinic visits, adherence to antiretroviral prophylaxis and return at six weeks post-partum for infant HIV testing for early infant diagnosis.

The study recruited 433 women at clinics in Kinshasa during 2013 and 2014 and randomised them equally to receive either cash compensation or standard management. Intent-to-treat analysis showed significantly higher rates of retention in care and adherence in the intervention group (non-retention reduced by 30% and non-adherence to PMTCT interventions by 32%) and lower rates of loss to follow-up at delivery and at six weeks postpartum (loss to follow-up reduced by 47%).


Thirumurthy H et al. The effect of conditional economic compensation and lottery-based rewards on uptake of medical male circumcision in Kenya: a randomized trial. Eighth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, Vancouver, abstract TUAC0102, 2015.

A webcast of this presentation is available on the conference YouTube channel.

You can download the slides of this presentation from the conference website.

Yotebieng M et al. Effectiveness of conditional cash transfers to increase retention in care and adherence to PMTCT services: a randomized controlled trial. Eighth International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, Vancouver, abstract TUAD0202, 2015.

You can download the slides of this presentation from the conference website.

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NAM's coverage of the 8th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2015) has been made possible thanks to support from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead, Merck & Co., Inc., and ViiV Healthcare.

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