Objectives: To describe formal, external to programme methods for size estimation of high-risk populations and compare execution challenges and validity of results.
Design: A cross-sectional HIV risk behavioural and biological survey was implemented among 24, 10 and five female sex workers, high-risk men who have sex with men and injecting drug user survey groups, respectively. Size estimates were calculated using three formal methods: capture–recapture, the multiplier method and the reverse tracking method (RTM), a new method.
Methods: Estimates were compared with each other and programme data.
Results: In general, when appropriately executed, formal methods produced smaller estimates to programme data, although the RTM tended to be closer to programme estimates.
Conclusions: Capture–recapture requires some knowledge of site location. It can be used as a community mobilization measure at the initiation of a programme. The multiplier method presumes the existence of high quality external data and requires care in selecting the appropriate multiplier. All size estimation methods require careful planning and a full understanding of population dynamics and limitations of data. Before selecting a size estimation method, one must be aware of the strengths, weaknesses and applicability of each method. Use of size estimation methods in large-scale programmes should be considered carefully with adequate importance given to planning and implementation.
aNational Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai, India
bFormer Director, National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai, India
cFamily Health International, New Delhi, India
dFormer Data Management and Analysis Coordinator, IBBA, National AIDS Research Institute, Pune, India
eNational AIDS Research Institute, Pune, India.
e Members of the IBBA study team are listed at the end of the paper.
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