Background HIV status awareness is critical for HIV prevention and care but HIV testing rates remain low in Uganda, especially among men. One suggested approach to increase access and utilisation of HIV testing services is HIV self-testing. We explored perceptions of pregnant and lactating women and their male partners who attended antenatal care, and health care providers in a government hospital in Kampala, Uganda, about HIV self-testing for initial or repeat testing for women and their partners during pregnancy and postpartum We draw implications for scaling-up this new testing approach in Uganda. Methods This was a qualitative study conducted at Mulago National Referral Hospital, Kampala, Uganda, between April and December 2017. We conducted in-depth interviews with five pregnant or lactating women and their five male partners; five focus group discussions (two with women, two with health workers and one with male partners of women attending antenatal care) and five key informant interviews with health workers providing prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) services. Data were analysed using content thematic approach. Results There was limited awareness about HIV self-testing especially among pregnant or lactating women and their male partners. Study participants mentioned that HIV self-testing would enable people to know their HIV status faster, they thought the approach would be cost- and time-saving compared to health facility-based HIV testing, improve confidentiality and reduce stigma for those who test HIV positive. They expressed however, a general fear that HIV self-testing would lead to harm to self and others in case one tested HIV positive, including suicide, violence among couples, intentional transmission of HIV, and limited linkage to care due to lack of counselling. The likely misinterpretation of HIV test results especially among those with no or limited education, and possible coercion exerted by male partners on their wives were other potential concerns raised about the use of HIV self-testing. Conclusions There was limited knowledge about HIV self-testing among pregnant and lactating women, their partners and health workers. While the self-testing modality was perceived to be critical for helping people, especially those in casual and distant relationships, to know their HIV status and that of their partners, most study participants believed that HIV self-testing could potentially result in a multitude of negative outcomes in the absence of pre- and post-test counselling. Successful scale-up and integration of self-testing in HIV programs requires community education, provision of information materials and making self-test kits accessible and affordable, especially in rural areas.
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