Vending machines help Brits self-test for STIs

Vending machines are an effective way to get people to test for STIs who might not normally do so, according to a UK research pilot. Eleven machines in the cities of Brighton, Hove and Bristol supplied STI self-test kits to the over 2,000 people over the course of a year. The feedback, from the 208 people who chose to give it, was overwhelmingly positive, with near-unanimous support. The service was especially effective at reaching individuals who otherwise may not get tested, with more than two thirds of users (68%) untested in the past 12 months, and over half (59%) had never tested. Safety and privacy were the major concerns for users.

Journal/conference: Sexually Transmitted Infections

Link to research (DOI): 10.1136/sextrans-2023-055969

Organisation/s: University of Bristol, UK; University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, UK; Brighton and Sussex Medical School, UK; The National Institute for Health and Care Research Applied Research Collaboration West, UK

Funder: g In Brighton, this research was jointly funded by Brighton Sexual Health and Contraception, Department of Global Health and Infection at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Martin Fisher Foundation and Brighton and Hove City Council. In Bristol, this research was funded by University Hospitals Bristol and
Weston NHS Foundation Trust (who also supported MG, JK, JH and S Denford’s time on the project) and Supported by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) West at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust and NIHR Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Behavioural Science and Evaluation at University of Bristol, in partnership with UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Media release

From: The BMJ

Vending machines dispensing self-test kits for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are an effective and acceptable means of reaching people who rarely or never get tested, find the results of a year-long pilot, published online in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections.

They should be considered as part of the digital offer of sexual health services, pending further studies to pinpoint the best locations to ensure privacy and safety, conclude the researchers.

They base their conclusions on a pilot of 11 publicly available vending machines located at 7 sites across Brighton and Hove and 4 in Bristol between April 2022 and March 2023. The machines dispensed rapid HIV tests and self sampling kits for other STIs.

During this time, 2536 kits were dispensed. And 208 of the users filled in questionnaires about their experience. Self-sample kits for STIs proved the most popular (74% of vends), with most (78%) dispensed to 16–35 year olds.

More than two thirds of users (68%) had not tested for STIs during the past 12 months, and over half (59%) had never tested. Half the kits (51%) were returned by post, although this is lower than the local online service (65%), note the researchers.

Convenience, instant access, and increased confidentiality were the most common reasons for using a vending machine. Most (92%) respondents thought the machines were user-friendly, and virtually all (97%) would recommend the service. But concerns about safety and privacy were reported by 42% and 66% of respondents, respectively.

In England, in 2022 around half of sexual health service consultations were done face-to-face, but difficulty getting appointments, the time needed for them, the costs of travel, and stigma from healthcare professionals put people off, say the researchers.

“Machines were valued for their convenience and instant access and could be used for the delivery of other sexual health services, such as contraception and pre-exposure prophylaxis in both higher and lower income settings,” they suggest.

But a better understanding of what’s required to assure privacy and safety while using the machines along with the feasibility and impact on sexual health service provision is essential, they add.

“Additionally, an economic evaluation is needed to ascertain whether vending machines represent a cost-effective option to reduce the demand on clinics increasing their capacity to provide timely care to individuals with complex needs,” they caution.


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