Social network distribution of syphilis self-testing among men who have sex with men in China: study protocol for a cluster randomized control trial

Yajie Wang, Wei Zhang, Dongping Bao, Jason J. Ong, Joseph D. Tucker, Rouxuan Ye, Heping Zheng, Bin Yang, Cheng Wang

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Background: Syphilis is a common sexually transmitted infection (STI) among men who have sex with men (MSM). Increasing syphilis testing is important to syphilis control. However, in low- and middle-income countries like China, syphilis testing rates remain low among MSM. We describe a randomized controlled trial protocol to examine the effectiveness of social network distribution approaches of syphilis self-testing among MSM in China. Methods: We will recruit index and alter MSM. Indexes will be eligible if they: are born biologically male; aged 18 years or above; ever had sex with another man; are willing to distribute syphilis testing packages or referral links to their alters; and willing to provide personal contact information for future follow-up. Three hundred MSM will be recruited and randomly assigned in a 1:1:1 ratio into three arms: standard of care (control arm); standard syphilis self-testing (SST) delivery arm; and referral link SST delivery arm. Indexes will distribute SST packages or referral links to encourage alters to receive syphilis testing. All indexes will complete a baseline survey and a 3-month follow-up survey. Syphilis self-test results will be determined by photo verification via a digital platform. The primary outcome is the mean number of alters who returned verified syphilis testing results per index in each arm. Discussion: The trial findings will provide practical implications in strengthening syphilis self-testing distribution and increasing syphilis testing uptake among MSM in China. This study also empowers MSM community in expanding syphilis testing by using their own social network. Trial registration: Chinese Clinical Trial Registry, ChiCTR2000036988. Registered 26 August 2020 - Retrospectively registered.

Original languageEnglish
Article number491
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Infectious Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • cRCT
  • MSM
  • Self-test
  • Social network distribution
  • Syphilis

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