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Background: Recruiting to trials is complex and difficult. The Prevention of Pelvic Infection (POPI) trial aims to see if screening women for chlamydia and treating those found to be infected reduces the incidence of pelvic inflammatory disease in the following twelve months. It focuses on young, sexually active, multiethnic, mainly inner city, female students. The main aim of this paper is to describe our recruitment methods. Secondary aims in two small subgroups, are to compare characteristics of women recruited with those not recruited, and to explore participants' understanding of when their samples would be tested for chlamydia. Methods: Women students attending lectures or in common rooms at 22 universities and further education colleges were recruited by female research assistants working in pairs. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire on sexual health and to provide self-taken vaginal swabs. In addition, during 3 recruitment sessions, a female medical student asked non-participants to complete a brief anonymous questionnaire on reasons for not taking part. Finally another female medical student contacted 40 consecutive participants within a month of recruitment and asked if they understood that their samples might not be tested for a year. Results: With enormous effort over 2 years we recruited 2526 women. A survey of 61 non-responders showed only 18 (30%) were eligible to take part (age <28, been sexually active and not been tested for chlamydia in the past 3 months). Eligible non-responders were of similar age to the 35 responders in the same recruitment sessions, but more likely to be from ethnic minority groups (67% 12/18 versus 29% 10/35 p < 0.01). Email and telephone contact with 35/40 (88%) of consecutive participants showed only two (6%) did not understand that their specimen might not be tested for chlamydia for a year. Thirty participants (85%) could name one or more possible consequences of untreated chlamydia infection. Conclusion: As in other studies, a key to attaining recruitment targets was the enthusiasm of the research team. Minority ethnic groups were probably under-represented, but understanding of participants was good. © 2007 Atherton et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

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