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Plos Medicine

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Case studies -- Uganda, Uganda -- Clinical trials, Antiretroviral therapy, Patients -- Counseling of



Community engagement is central to the conduct of health-related research studies as a way to determine priorities, inform study design and implementation, increase recruitment and retention, build relationships, and ensure that research meets the goals of the community. Community sensitization meetings, a form of community engagement, are often held prior to the initiation of research studies to provide information about upcoming study activities and resolve concerns in consultation with potential participants. This study estimated demographic, health, economic, and social network correlates of attendance at community sensitization meetings held in advance of a whole-population, combined behavioral, and biomedical research study in rural Uganda.

Methods and findings

Research assistants collected survey data from 1,630 adults participating in an ongoing sociocentric social network cohort study conducted in a rural region of southwestern Uganda. These community survey data, collected between 2016 and 2018, were linked to attendance logs from community sensitization meetings held in 2018 and 2019 before the subsequent community survey and community health fair. Of all participants, 264 (16%) attended a community sensitization meeting before the community survey, 464 (28%) attended a meeting before the community health fair, 558 (34%) attended a meeting before either study activity (survey or health fair), and 170 (10%) attended a meeting before both study activities (survey and health fair). Using multivariable Poisson regression models, we estimated correlates of attendance at community sensitization meetings. Attendance was more likely among study participants who were women (adjusted relative risk [ARR]health fair = 1.71, 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.32 to 2.21, p < 0.001), older age (ARRsurvey = 1.02 per year, 95% CI, 1.01 to 1.02, p < 0.001; ARRhealth fair = 1.02 per year, 95% CI, 1.01 to 1.02, p < 0.001), married (ARRsurvey = 1.74, 95% CI, 1.29 to 2.35, p < 0.001; ARRhealth fair = 1.41, 95% CI, 1.13 to 1.76, p = 0.002), and members of more community groups (ARRsurvey = 1.26 per group, 95% CI, 1.10 to 1.44, p = 0.001; ARRhealth fair = 1.26 per group, 95% CI, 1.12 to 1.43, p < 0.001). Attendance was less likely among study participants who lived farther from meeting locations (ARRsurvey = 0.54 per kilometer, 95% CI, 0.30 to 0.97, p = 0.041; ARRhealth fair = 0.57 per kilometer, 95% CI, 0.38 to 0.86, p = 0.007). Leveraging the cohort’s sociocentric design, social network analyses suggested that information conveyed during community sensitization meetings could reach a broader group of potential study participants through attendees’ social network and household connections. Study limitations include lack of detailed data on reasons for attendance/nonattendance at community sensitization meetings; achieving a representative sample of community members was not an explicit aim of the study; and generalizability may not extend beyond this study setting.


In this longitudinal, sociocentric social network study conducted in rural Uganda, we observed that older age, female sex, being married, membership in more community groups, and geographical proximity to meeting locations were correlated with attendance at community sensitization meetings held in advance of bio-behavioral research activities. Information conveyed during meetings could have reached a broader portion of the population through attendees’ social network and household connections. To ensure broader input and potentially increase participation in health-related research studies, the dissemination of research-related information through community sensitization meetings may need to target members of underrepresented groups.


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