Hanneke Goense: striving for zero new HIV infections in Limburg with Limburg4zero

More than 3000 people work for the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences. That’s more than 3000 individuals, each with their own interesting story. Our ‘nice to meet you section’ is created so you can read about your colleagues and learn what their story is. Because it’s World Aids Day, we talked to Hanneke Goense, PhD-candidate at ‘Caphri – the Care and Public Health Research Institute’. Hanneke is conducting implementation research within ‘Limburg4zero’, a regional collaboration that provides home-based and preventive sexual health care.

Limburg4zero

Limburg4zero is a collaboration between Maastricht University, MUMC+, the Public Health Services in Limburg and other regional stakeholders, such as the municipality of Maastricht. They all work towards a common goal: zero new HIV infections in Limburg. They do so with at-home test kits for sexually transmitted infections (STI) including HIV. “These test kits can be used discretely in the comfort of one’s own home and are part of the comprehensive sexual health care. If someone experiences barriers to get tested in regular care facilities, they can take our test at home and send it to a lab. If the results are positive, a team of specialised care providers contact the individual for further guidance and treatment”. The testkit itself was developed within this collaboration and is unique as it can detect HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia. 
With her background in Sociology, Hanneke aims to tackle inequality in access to care by reaching the target group, men who also have sex with other men, as effective as possible. She specialised in how to make a difference with research in practice, an added value to Limburg4zero.

Reliable and discrete care

The biggest need of the target group is easy access to reliable and discrete care. “We created online informational material for dating sites, but also material for places where men have sexual contact with other men such as saunas or clubs.” Hanneke worked with a focus group to help determine the best places and channels to inform about the test kits.

The challenges of testing at home is that it isn’t handled properly for lab research, Hanneke relies on feedback from users to reduce that risk: “We know that the most effective way to explain the test is by showing a video. So, we added a QR code in the test box that links to a instructional video.” Because of the research based implementation plan and the feedback of users, almost 1000 tests were requested in the past three years. “Word of mouth also plays a substantial part in our success. If someone feels comfortable with the test and the contact afterwards, they’ll spread the word in their network.”

A rating of 8,5/10

Everyone who has completed the test, is asked to fill in an evaluation form. Limburg4zero has a general satisfaction rate of 8,5/10. "Among others, we also target adolescent men (under the age of 25), but also men that do not yet identify as being gay or bisexual. In addition to the test, men can also talk to us about sex in general, gender identity, advice on PrEP, and so on."

Almost there

The number of new HIV infections is very low in the Netherlands. We aim to bring the number down to a complete zero in 2030. “It’s the last few miles that are the hardest. We need to keep paying attention so that the number does not rise up and of course keep testing so that someone who is positive can receive timely treatment and does not transmits it to others.”

Also read

  • Pieter Jelle Visser was appointed professor at Maastricht University in 2022. He is engaged in research on Alzheimer's disease: the underlying causes and the possibilities for therapy. Visser has always been intrigued by the brain. Researching Alzheimer's fascinates him, not least because much can...

  • Three research consortia recently received 3.1 million euros from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and the Dutch Arthritis Society (ReumaNederland) for research into the early detection of osteoarthritis. Two of these three are Maastricht based projects. 

  • Researchers from Maastricht University and University Medical Centre Utrecht have shown that a ‘digital twin’ of 45 patients with heart failure can correctly predict the effectiveness of pacemaker treatment. A digital twin is a computer model that processes a variety of data from the clinic to...