Background Economic compensation interventions may help support higher voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) coverage in priority sub-Saharan African countries. To inform World Health Organization guidelines, we conducted a systematic review of economic compensation interventions to increase VMMC uptake. Methods Economic compensation interventions were defined as providing money or in-kind compensation, reimbursement for associated costs (e.g. travel, lost wages), or lottery entry. We searched five electronic databases and four scientific conferences for studies examining the impact of such interventions on VMMC uptake, HIV testing and safer-sex/risk-reduction counseling uptake within VMMC, community expectations about compensation, and potential coercion. We screened citations, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias in duplicate. We conducted random-effects meta-analysis. We also reviewed studies examining acceptability, values/preferences, costs, and feasibility. Results Of 2484 citations identified, five randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and three non-randomized controlled trials met our eligibility criteria. Studies took place in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Meta-analysis of four RCTs showed significant impact of any economic compensation on VMMC uptake (relative risk: 5.23, 95% CI: 3.13 to 8.76). RCTs of food/transport vouchers and conditional cash transfers generally showed increases in VMMC uptake, but lotteries, subsidized VMMC, and receiving a gift appeared somewhat less effective. Three non-randomized trials showed mixed impact. Six additional studies suggested economic compensation interventions were generally acceptable, valued for addressing key barriers, and motivating to men. However, some participants felt they were insufficiently motivating or necessary; one study suggested they might raise community suspicions. One study from South Africa found a program cost of US$91 per additional circumcision and US$450-$1350 per HIV infection averted. Conclusions Economic compensation interventions, particularly transport/food vouchers, positively impacted VMMC uptake among adult men and were generally acceptable to potential clients. Carefully selected economic interventions may be a useful targeted strategy to enhance VMMC coverage.
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