Background: During a microbicide trial feasibility study among women at high-risk of HIV and sexually transmitted infections in Mwanza, northern Tanzania, we used participatory research tools to facilitate open dialogue and partnership between researchers and study participants. Methods: A community-based sexual and reproductive health service was established in ten city wards. Wards were divided into seventy-eight geographical clusters, representatives at cluster and ward level elected and a city-level Community Advisory Committee (CAC) with representatives from each ward established. Workshops and community meetings at ward and city-level were conducted to explore project-related concerns using tools adapted from participatory learning and action techniques such as listing, scoring, ranking, chapatti diagrams and pair-wise matrices. Results: Key issues identified included beliefs that blood specimens were being sold for witchcraft purposes; worries about specula not being clean; inadequacy of transport allowances; and delays in reporting laboratory test results to participants. To date, the project has responded by inviting members of the CAC to visit the laboratory to observe how blood and genital specimens are prepared; demonstrated the use of the autoclave to community representatives; raised reimbursement levels; introduced HIV rapid testing in the clinic; and streamlined laboratory reporting procedures. Conclusion: Participatory techniques were instrumental in promoting meaningful dialogue between the research team, study participants and community representatives in Mwanza, allowing researchers and community representatives to gain a shared understanding of project-related priority areas for intervention.
BMC Public Health (2007) 7, article 133 [doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-133].