Social isolation among HIV-positive persons might be an important barrier to care. Using data from the SEARCH Study in rural Kenya and Uganda, we constructed 32 community-wide, sociocentric networks and evaluated whether less socially connected HIV-positive persons were less likely to know their status, have initiated treatment, and be virally suppressed.
Between 2013 and 2014, 168,720 adult residents in the SEARCH Study were census-enumerated, offered HIV testing, and asked to name social contacts. Social networks were constructed by matching named contacts to other residents. We characterized the resulting networks and estimated risk ratios (aRR) associated with poor HIV care outcomes, adjusting for sociodemographic factors and clustering by community with generalized estimating equations.
The sociocentric networks contained 170,028 residents (nodes) and 362,965 social connections (edges). Among 11,239 HIV-positive persons who named ≥1 contact, 30.9% were previously undiagnosed, 43.7% had not initiated treatment, and 49.4% had viral nonsuppression. Lower social connectedness, measured by the number of persons naming an HIV-positive individual as a contact (in-degree), was associated with poorer outcomes in Uganda, but not Kenya. Specifically, HIV-positive persons in the lowest connectedness tercile were less likely to be previously diagnosed (Uganda-West aRR: 0.89 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.83, 0.96]; Uganda-East aRR: 0.85 [95% CI: 0.76, 0.96]); on treatment (Uganda-West aRR: 0.88 [95% CI: 0.80, 0.98]; Uganda-East aRR: 0.81 [0.72, 0.92]), and suppressed (Uganda-West aRR: 0.84 [95% CI: 0.73, 0.96]; Uganda-East aRR: 0.74 [95% CI: 0.58, 0.94]) than those in the highest connectedness tercile.
HIV-positive persons named as a contact by fewer people may be at higher risk for poor HIV care outcomes, suggesting opportunities for targeted interventions.