Exploring user and stakeholder perspectives from South Africa and Uganda to refine microarray patch development for HIV PrEP delivery and as a multipurpose prevention technology

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Oral HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is highly effective, but alternative delivery options are needed to reach more users. Microarray patches (MAPs), a novel drug-delivery system containing micron-scale projections or “microneedles” that deliver drugs via skin, are being developed to deliver long-acting HIV PrEP and as a multipurpose prevention technology to protect from HIV and unintended pregnancy. We explored whether MAP technology could meet user and health system needs in two African countries. Methods: Researchers in South Africa and Uganda conducted 27 focus group discussions, 76 mock-use exercises, and 31 key informant interviews to explore perceptions about MAPs and specific features such as MAP size, duration of protection, delivery indicator, and health system fit. Participants included young women and men from key populations and vulnerable groups at high risk of HIV and/or unintended pregnancy, including adolescent girls and young women; female sex workers and men who have sex with these women; and men who have sex with men. In Uganda, researchers also recruited young women and men from universities and the community as vulnerable groups. Key stakeholders included health care providers, sexual and reproductive health experts, policymakers, and youth activists. Qualitative data were transcribed, translated, coded, and analyzed to explore perspectives and preferences about MAPs. Survey responses after mock-use in Uganda were tabulated to assess satisfaction with MAP features and highlight areas for additional refinement. Results: All groups expressed interest in MAP technology, reporting perceived advantages over other methods. Most participants preferred the smallest MAP size for ease of use and discreetness. Some would accept a larger MAP if it provided longer protection. Most preferred a protection duration of 1 to 3 months or longer; others preferred 1-week protection. Upper arm and thigh were the most preferred application sites. Up to 30 minutes of wear time was considered acceptable; some wanted longer to ensure the drug was fully delivered. Self-administration was valued by all groups; most preferred initial training by a provider. Conclusions: Potential users and stakeholders showed strong interest in/acceptance of MAP technology, and their feedback identified key improvements for MAP design. If a MAP containing a high-potency antiretroviral or a MAP containing both an antiretroviral and hormonal contraceptive is developed, these products could improve acceptability/uptake of protection options in sub-Saharan Africa.