An Exploratory Study to Assess Individual and Structural Level Barriers Associated With Poor Retention and Re-engagement in Care Among Persons Living With HIV/AIDS

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Abstract

Background:

Retention in care is the most challenging step along the HIV care continuum. Many patients who engage in care and achieve viral suppression have care interruptions, characterized by moving in and out of care (“churn”). Poor retention has clinical consequences and contributes to new HIV transmissions, but how to predict or prevent it remains elusive. This study sought to understand the relationship between individual- and structural-level barriers, and poor retention for persons living with HIV/AIDS in Atlanta, GA.

Methods:

We administered a survey, through interviews, with HIV-infected patients continuously retained in care for 6 years (“continuously retained,” n = 32) and patients with recent gaps in care (“unretained” n = 27). We assessed individual-level protective factors for successful engagement (self-efficacy, resilience, perceived social support, and disclosure), risk factors for poor engagement (substance use, mental illness, and stigma), and structural/systemic-level barriers (financial and housing instability, transportation, food insecurity, communication barriers, and incarceration history). Chi-square and Mann–Whitney U tests were used to compare the 2 populations.

Results:

Both continuously retained and unretained populations had high rates of prior viral suppression but few unretained patients were virologically suppressed upon return to care (11%). Younger age, crack cocaine use, food insecurity, financial instability, housing instability, and phone number changes in the past year were significantly more likely to be present in the unretained population.

Conclusions:

Our findings suggest the need for targeted risk assessment tools to predict the highest-risk patients for poor retention whereby public health interventions can be directed to those individuals.

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