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High rates of retention and viral suppression in the scale-up of antiretroviral therapy adherence clubs in Cape Town, South Africa

Priscilla Ruvimbo Tsondai, Lynne Susan Wilkinson, Anna Grimsrud, Precious Thembekile Mdlalo, Angelica Ullauri, Andrew Boulle


Introduction: Increasingly, there is a need for health authority scale up of successfully piloted differentiated models of antiretroviral therapy (ART) delivery. However, there is a paucity of evidence on system-wide outcomes after scale-up. In the Cape Town health district, stable adult patients were referred to adherence clubs (ACs) – a group model of ART delivery with five visits per year. By the end of March 2015, over 32,000 ART patients were in an AC. We describe patient outcomes of a representative sample of AC patients during this scale-up.

Methods: Patients enrolled in an AC at non-research supported sites between 2011 and 2014 were eligible for analysis. We sampled 10% of ACs (n = 100) in quintets proportional to the number of ACs at each facility, linking each patient to city-wide laboratory and service access data to validate retention and virologic outcomes. We digitized registers and used competing risks regression and cross-sectional methods to estimate outcomes: mortality, transfers, loss to follow-up (LTFU) and viral load suppression (≤400 copies/mL). Predictors of LTFU and viral rebound were assessed using Cox proportional hazards models.

Results: Of the 3216 adults contributing 4019 person years of follow-up (89% in an AC, median 1.1 years), 70% were women. Retention was 95.2% (95% CI, 94.0-96.4) at 12 months and 89.3% (95% CI, 87.1-91.4) at 24 months after AC enrolment. In the 13 months prior to analysis closure, 88.1% of patients had viral load assessments and of those, viral loads ≤400 copies/mL were found in 97.2% (95% CI, 96.5-97.8) of patients. Risk of LTFU was higher in younger patients and in patients accessing ART from facilities with larger ART cohorts. Risk of viral rebound was higher in younger patients, those that had been on ART for longer and patients that had never sent a buddy to collect their medication.

Conclusions: This is the first analysis reporting patient outcomes after health authorities scaled-up a differentiated care model across a high burden district. The findings provide substantial reassurance that stable patients on long-term ART can safely be offered care options, which are more convenient to patients and less burdensome to services.

Keywords HIV; antiretroviral therapy; models of care; adherence club; retention; program outcomes

(Published: 21 July 2017)

Tsondai PR et al. Journal of the International AIDS Society 2017, 20:21649 |

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Journal of the International AIDS Society | eISSN 1758-2652 | Editors-in-Chief: Susan Kippax and Kenneth Mayer

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