Development of an Agent-Based Model to Investigate the Impact of HIV Self-Testing Programs on Men Who Have Sex With Men in Atlanta and Seattle
Background: In the United States HIV epidemic, men who have sex with men (MSM) remain the most profoundly affected group. Prevention science is increasingly being organized around HIV testing as a launch point into an HIV prevention continuum for MSM who are not living with HIV and into an HIV care continuum for MSM who are living with HIV. An increasing HIV testing frequency among MSM might decrease future HIV infections by linking men who are living with HIV to antiretroviral care, resulting in viral suppression. Distributing HIV self-test (HIVST) kits is a strategy aimed at increasing HIV testing. Our previous modeling work suggests that the impact of HIV self-tests on transmission dynamics will depend not only on the frequency of tests and testers’ behaviors but also on the epidemiological and testing characteristics of the population.
Objective: The objective of our study was to develop an agent-based model to inform public health strategies for promoting safe and effective HIV self-tests to decrease the HIV incidence among MSM in Atlanta, GA, and Seattle, WA, cities representing profoundly different epidemiological settings.
Methods: We adapted and extended a network- and agent-based stochastic simulation model of HIV transmission dynamics that was developed and parameterized to investigate racial disparities in HIV prevalence among MSM in Atlanta. The extension comprised several activities: adding a new set of model parameters for Seattle MSM; adding new parameters for tester types (ie, regular, risk-based, opportunistic-only, or never testers); adding parameters for simplified pre-exposure prophylaxis uptake following negative results for HIV tests; and developing a conceptual framework for the ways in which the provision of HIV self-tests might change testing behaviors. We derived city-specific parameters from previous cohort and cross-sectional studies on MSM in Atlanta and Seattle. Each simulated population comprised 10,000 MSM and targeted HIV prevalences are equivalent to 28% and 11% in Atlanta and Seattle, respectively.
Results: Previous studies provided sufficient data to estimate the model parameters representing nuanced HIV testing patterns and HIV self-test distribution. We calibrated the models to simulate the epidemics representing Atlanta and Seattle, including matching the expected stable HIV prevalence. The revised model facilitated the estimation of changes in 10-year HIV incidence based on counterfactual scenarios of HIV self-test distribution strategies and their impact on testing behaviors.
Conclusions: We demonstrated that the extension of an existing agent-based HIV transmission model was sufficient to simulate the HIV epidemics among MSM in Atlanta and Seattle, to accommodate a more nuanced depiction of HIV testing behaviors than previous models, and to serve as a platform to investigate how HIV self-tests might impact testing and HIV transmission patterns among MSM in Atlanta and Seattle. In our future studies, we will use the model to test how different HIV self-test distribution strategies might affect HIV incidence among MSM.