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The clinical effectiveness of individual behaviour change interventions to reduce risky sexual behaviour after a negative human immunodeficiency virus test in men who have sex with men: systematic and realist reviews and intervention development

Health Technology Assessment, No. 21.5

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Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; .


Behaviour change interventions can reduce HIV-risk-related behaviour but their UK applicability is uncertain. A candidate intervention was developed for UK use but would need testing in a trial.



Men who have sex with men (MSM) experience significant inequalities in health and well-being. They are the group in the UK at the highest risk of acquiring a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Guidance relating to both HIV infection prevention, in general, and individual-level behaviour change interventions, in particular, is very limited.


To conduct an evidence synthesis of the clinical effectiveness of behaviour change interventions to reduce risky sexual behaviour among MSM after a negative HIV infection test. To identify effective components within interventions in reducing HIV risk-related behaviours and develop a candidate intervention. To host expert events addressing the implementation and optimisation of a candidate intervention.

Data sources:

All major electronic databases (British Education Index, BioMed Central, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, EMBASE, Educational Resource Index and Abstracts, Health and Medical Complete, MEDLINE, PsycARTICLES, PsycINFO, PubMed and Social Science Citation Index) were searched between January 2000 and December 2014.

Review methods:

A systematic review of the clinical effectiveness of individual behaviour change interventions was conducted. Interventions were examined using the behaviour change technique (BCT) taxonomy, theory coding assessment, mode of delivery and proximity to HIV infection testing. Data were summarised in narrative review and, when appropriate, meta-analysis was carried out. Supplemental analyses for the development of the candidate intervention focused on post hoc realist review method, the assessment of the sequential delivery and content of intervention components, and the social and historical context of primary studies. Expert panels reviewed the candidate intervention for issues of implementation and optimisation.


Overall, trials included in this review (n = 10) demonstrated that individual-level behaviour change interventions are effective in reducing key HIV infection risk-related behaviours. However, there was considerable clinical and methodological heterogeneity among the trials. Exploratory meta-analysis showed a statistically significant reduction in behaviours associated with high risk of HIV transmission (risk ratio 0.75, 95% confidence interval 0.62 to 0.91). Additional stratified analyses suggested that effectiveness may be enhanced through face-to-face contact immediately after testing, and that theory-based content and BCTs drawn from ‘goals and planning’ and ‘identity’ groups are important. All evidence collated in the review was synthesised to develop a candidate intervention. Experts highlighted overall acceptability of the intervention and outlined key ways that the candidate intervention could be optimised to enhance UK implementation.


There was a limited number of primary studies. All were from outside the UK and were subject to considerable clinical, methodological and statistical heterogeneity. The findings of the meta-analysis must therefore be treated with caution. The lack of detailed intervention manuals limited the assessment of intervention content, delivery and fidelity.


Evidence regarding the effectiveness of behaviour change interventions suggests that they are effective in changing behaviour associated with HIV transmission. Exploratory stratified meta-analyses suggested that interventions should be delivered face to face and immediately after testing. There are uncertainties around the generalisability of these findings to the UK setting. However, UK experts found the intervention acceptable and provided ways of optimising the candidate intervention.

Future work:

There is a need for well-designed, UK-based trials of individual behaviour change interventions that clearly articulate intervention content and demonstrate intervention fidelity.

Study registration:

The study is registered as PROSPERO CRD42014009500.


The National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme.


About the Series

Health Technology Assessment
ISSN (Print): 1366-5278
ISSN (Electronic): 2046-4924

Article history

The research reported in this issue of the journal was funded by the HTA programme as project number 13/77/03. The contractual start date was in August 2014. The draft report began editorial review in August 2015 and was accepted for publication in May 2016. The authors have been wholly responsible for all data collection, analysis and interpretation, and for writing up their work. The HTA editors and publisher have tried to ensure the accuracy of the authors’ report and would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive comments on the draft document. However, they do not accept liability for damages or losses arising from material published in this report.

Declared competing interests of authors


Last reviewed: August 2015; Accepted: May 2016.

Copyright © Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2017. This work was produced by Flowers et al. under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health. This issue may be freely reproduced for the purposes of private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals provided that suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising. Applications for commercial reproduction should be addressed to: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK.

Included under terms of UK Non-commercial Government License.

Bookshelf ID: NBK410216DOI: 10.3310/hta21050


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