“Determined, Resilient, AIDS-free, Mentored and Safe” (DREAMS) is a package of biomedical, social and economic interventions offered to adolescent girls and young women aged 10–24 years with the aim of reducing HIV incidence. In four of the six DREAMS districts in Zimbabwe, DREAMS includes an offer of oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (DREAMS+PrEP), alongside interventions to support demand and adherence, to women aged 18–24 who are at highest risk of HIV infection, including young women who sell sex (YWSS). This evaluation study addresses the question: does the delivery of DREAMS+PrEP through various providers reduce HIV incidence among YWSS Zimbabwe? We describe our approach to designing a rigorous study to assess whether DREAMS+PrEP had an impact on HIV incidence.
The study design needed to account for the fact that: 1) DREAMS+PrEP was non-randomly allocated; 2) there is no sampling frame for the target population for the evaluation; 3) there are a small number of DREAMS districts (N = 6), and 4) DREAMS+PrEP is being implemented by various providers. The study will use a cohort analysis approach to compare HIV incidence among YWSS in two DREAMS+PrEP districts to HIV incidence among YWSS in non-DREAMS comparison sites. YWSS will be referred to services and recruited into the cohort through a network-based (respondent-driven) recruitment strategy, and followed-up 12- and 24-months after enrolment. Women will be asked to complete a questionnaire and offered HIV testing. Additional complications of this study include identifying comparable populations of YWSS in the DREAMS+PrEP and non-DREAMS comparison sites, and retention of YWSS over the 24-month period. The primary outcome is HIV incidence among YWSS HIV-negative at study enrolment measured by repeat, rapid HIV testing over 24-months. Inference will be based on plausibility that DREAMS+PrEP had an impact on HIV incidence. A process evaluation will be conducted to understand intervention implementation, and document any contextual factors determining the success or failure of intervention delivery.
HIV prevention products of known efficacy are available. Innovative studies are needed to provide evidence of how to optimise product use through combination interventions to achieve population impact within different contexts. We describe the design of such a study.