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Patient Retention in Antiretroviral Therapy Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review

1 , 2 , * , 1 , 1 , 3

PLoS Medicine

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      Abstract

      Background

      Long-term retention of patients in Africa's rapidly expanding antiretroviral therapy (ART) programs for HIV/AIDS is essential for these programs' success but has received relatively little attention. In this paper we present a systematic review of patient retention in ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa.

      Methods and Findings

      We searched Medline, other literature databases, conference abstracts, publications archives, and the “gray literature” (project reports available online) between 2000 and 2007 for reports on the proportion of adult patients retained (i.e., remaining in care and on ART) after 6 mo or longer in sub-Saharan African, non-research ART programs, with and without donor support. Estimated retention rates at 6, 12, and 24 mo were calculated and plotted for each program. Retention was also estimated using Kaplan-Meier curves. In sensitivity analyses we considered best-case, worst-case, and midpoint scenarios for retention at 2 y; the best-case scenario assumed no further attrition beyond that reported, while the worst-case scenario assumed that attrition would continue in a linear fashion. We reviewed 32 publications reporting on 33 patient cohorts (74,192 patients, 13 countries). For all studies, the weighted average follow-up period reported was 9.9 mo, after which 77.5% of patients were retained. Loss to follow-up and death accounted for 56% and 40% of attrition, respectively. Weighted mean retention rates as reported were 79.1%, 75.0% and 61.6 % at 6, 12, and 24 mo, respectively. Of those reporting 24 mo of follow-up, the best program retained 85% of patients and the worst retained 46%. Attrition was higher in studies with shorter reporting periods, leading to monthly weighted mean attrition rates of 3.3%/mo, 1.9%/mo, and 1.6%/month for studies reporting to 6, 12, and 24 months, respectively, and suggesting that overall patient retention may be overestimated in the published reports. In sensitivity analyses, estimated retention rates ranged from 24% in the worse case to 77% in the best case at the end of 2 y, with a plausible midpoint scenario of 50%.

      Conclusions

      Since the inception of large-scale ART access early in this decade, ART programs in Africa have retained about 60% of their patients at the end of 2 y. Loss to follow-up is the major cause of attrition, followed by death. Better patient tracing procedures, better understanding of loss to follow-up, and earlier initiation of ART to reduce mortality are needed if retention is to be improved. Retention varies widely across programs, and programs that have achieved higher retention rates can serve as models for future improvements.

      Abstract

      Almost half of people entering African HIV treatment programs were lost to follow-up or died within two years, according to this systematic review by Sydney Rosen and colleagues.

      Editors' Summary

      Background.

      About 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Every year, about three million more people become infected with HIV and 2 million die from AIDS in this region, where the pandemic has reduced life expectancy, orphaned many children, and reversed economic growth. Since 1996, HIV-positive people living in wealthier parts of the world have had access to cocktails of antiretroviral drugs that hold HIV in check and allow them to live relatively normal, healthy lives. But these drugs are expensive and it is only in the past five years that antiretroviral therapy (ART) programs have been initiated in sub-Saharan Africa, often with international support.

      Why Was This Study Done?

      For ART to work, HIV-infected individuals whose immune systems have been damaged by the virus have to take antiretroviral drugs regularly for the rest of their lives. If people take ART irregularly or stop taking their medications they may become sicker or die, or the viruses they carry may become resistant to antiretroviral drugs. Several studies have looked at how well patients on ART stick to their day-to-day medication schedules, but how long patients stay in treatment programs, which they must do to prevent illness and death from AIDS, has received little attention. In this study the researchers reviewed reports of whether patients stay in treatment in ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa, and also looked at the reasons why they drop out.

      What Did the Researchers Do and Find?

      The researchers identified 32 scientific reports published or presented at meetings between 2000 and 2007 that gave details of the proportion of adult patients retained (alive and receiving ART) in ART treatment programs (not including research studies) in 13 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The average follow-up time of the programs (adjusted for number of patients in each) was 9.9 months. At this time, 77.5% of the patients were retained on average. Of the patients not retained, just under half had died and half had been lost to follow up. That is, they had missed clinic visits or had not picked up their medication. Estimated average retention rates at 6, 12, and 24 months were 79.08%, 75% and 61.6%, respectively; retention rates reported at 24 months ranged between 46% and 85% of patients. Finally, using sensitivity analysis (a technique that can estimate best- and worst-case possibilities), the researchers estimated that actual retention in ART programs after 2 years probably lies between one-quarter and three-quarters of patients.

      What Do These Findings Mean?

      These results show that roughly half of people starting HIV treatment programs in Africa are no longer receiving treatment after two years. The overall success rates of African treatment programs may actually be even lower, if one takes into account that programs with very low retention may be unlikely to publish their results. This study therefore indicates that a worrying number of patients in sub-Saharan Africa who need ART are lost from treatment programs. Because many of these patients are lost because they die from AIDS, one way to improve retention might be to start treating people with ART earlier, before they become seriously ill from HIV. Better efforts to find out exactly why patients drop out of programs (for example, the cost of drugs and/or of transport to clinics) might reduce the number of patients lost to follow up. The researchers also suggest that ART programs with very high retention rates might serve as models to improve retention rates in other programs.

      Additional Information.

      Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040298.

      • Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS

      • HIV InSite is a regional page on sub-Saharan Africa from the University of California, San Francisco

      • Information is provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in various countries and regions

      • Avert is an international AIDS charity that provides information on HIV and AIDS in Africa

      • Aidsmap is an international AIDS organization that summarizes research about HIV/AIDS and reports news (in English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Russian)

      Related collections

      Most cited references 55

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      Adherence to long-term therapies: evidence for action.

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        Mortality of HIV-1-infected patients in the first year of antiretroviral therapy: comparison between low-income and high-income countries.

        Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) is being scaled up in developing countries. We compared baseline characteristics and outcomes during the first year of HAART between HIV-1-infected patients in low-income and high-income settings. 18 HAART programmes in Africa, Asia, and South America (low-income settings) and 12 HIV cohort studies from Europe and North America (high-income settings) provided data for 4810 and 22,217, respectively, treatment-naïve adult patients starting HAART. All patients from high-income settings and 2725 (57%) patients from low-income settings were actively followed-up and included in survival analyses. Compared with high-income countries, patients starting HAART in low-income settings had lower CD4 cell counts (median 108 cells per muL vs 234 cells per muL), were more likely to be female (51%vs 25%), and more likely to start treatment with a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NNRTI) (70%vs 23%). At 6 months, the median number of CD4 cells gained (106 cells per muL vs 103 cells per muL) and the percentage of patients reaching HIV-1 RNA levels lower than 500 copies/mL (76%vs 77%) were similar. Mortality was higher in low-income settings (124 deaths during 2236 person-years of follow-up) than in high-income settings (414 deaths during 20,532 person-years). The adjusted hazard ratio (HR) of mortality comparing low-income with high-income settings fell from 4.3 (95% CI 1.6-11.8) during the first month to 1.5 (0.7-3.0) during months 7-12. The provision of treatment free of charge in low-income settings was associated with lower mortality (adjusted HR 0.23; 95% CI 0.08-0.61). Patients starting HAART in resource-poor settings have increased mortality rates in the first months on therapy, compared with those in developed countries. Timely diagnosis and assessment of treatment eligibility, coupled with free provision of HAART, might reduce this excess mortality.
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          Adherence to antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa and North America: a meta-analysis.

          Adherence to antiretroviral therapy is a powerful predictor of survival for individuals living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS. Concerns about incomplete adherence among patients living in poverty have been an important consideration in expanding the access to antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa. To evaluate estimates of antiretroviral therapy adherence in sub-Saharan Africa and North America. Eleven electronic databases were searched along with major conference abstract databases (inclusion dates: inception of database up until April 18, 2006) for all English-language articles and abstracts; and researchers and treatment advocacy groups were contacted. Study Selection and Data Abstraction To best reflect the general population, studies of mixed populations in both North America and Africa were selected. Studies evaluating specific populations such as men only, homeless individuals, or drug users, were excluded. The data were abstracted in duplicate on study adherence outcomes, thresholds used to determine adherence, and characteristics of the populations. A random-effects meta-analysis was performed in which heterogeneity was examined using multivariable random-effects logistic regression. A sensitivity analysis was performed using Bayesian methods. Thirty-one studies from North America (28 full-text articles and 3 abstracts) and 27 studies (9 full-text articles and 18 abstracts) from sub-Saharan Africa were included. African studies represented 12 sub-Saharan countries. Of the North American studies, 71% used patient self-report to assess adherence; this was true of 66% of the African assessments. Studies reported similar thresholds for adherence monitoring (eg, 100%, >95%, >90%, >80%). A pooled analysis of the North American studies (17,573 patients total) indicated a pooled estimate of 55% (95% confidence interval, 49%-62%; I2, 98.6%) of the populations achieving adequate levels of adherence. Our pooled analysis of African studies (12,116 patients total) indicated a pooled estimate of 77% (95% confidence interval, 68%-85%; I2, 98.4%). Study continent, adherence thresholds, and study quality were significant predictors of heterogeneity. Bayesian analysis was used as an alternative statistical method for combining adherence rates and provided similar findings. Our findings indicate that favorable levels of adherence, much of which was assessed via patient self-report, can be achieved in sub-Saharan African settings and that adherence remains a concern in North America.
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ] Center for International Health and Development, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
            [2 ] Health Economics Research Office, Wits Health Consortium, Johannesburg, South Africa
            [3 ] Infectious Diseases Section, Department of Medicine, Boston Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
            Mexican National Institutes of Health, Mexico
            Author notes
            * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: sbrosen@ 123456bu.edu .
            Contributors
            Role: Academic Editor
            Journal
            PLoS Med
            pmed
            PLoS Medicine
            Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
            1549-1277
            1549-1676
            October 2007
            16 October 2007
            : 4
            : 10
            2020494
            10.1371/journal.pmed.0040298
            07-PLME-RA-0170R2 plme-04-10-03
            17941716
            (Academic Editor)
            This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Public Domain declaration which stipulates that, once placed in the public domain, this work may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose.
            Counts
            Pages: 11
            Categories
            Research Article
            Infectious Diseases
            Public Health and Epidemiology
            HIV Infection/AIDS
            Medicine in Developing Countries
            International Health
            Custom metadata
            Rosen S, Fox MP, Gill CJ (2007) Patient retention in antiretroviral therapy programs in sub-Saharan Africa: A systematic review. PLoS Med 4(10): e298. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040298

            Medicine

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