Beyond “Option B+”: Understanding Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) Adherence, Retention in Care and Engagement in ART Services Among Pregnant and Postpartum Women Initiating Therapy in Sub-Saharan Africa

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Several studies from sub-Saharan Africa have highlighted significant challenges in providing antiretroviral therapy (ART) to pregnant and postpartum women, with specific concerns around maintaining optimal levels of adherence to ART and/or retaining women in long-term services. However, there are few conceptual frameworks to help understand nonadherence and nonretention, as well as the drivers of these, among HIV-infected women, particularly in the postpartum period.


This review provides an overview of the key issues involved in thinking about ART adherence, retention in care and engagement in ART services among pregnant and postpartum women.


The related behaviors of adherence and retention may be understood as components of effective engagement of patients in ART services, which share the goal of achieving and maintaining suppressed maternal viral load on ART. Under this framework, the existing literature indicates that disengagement from care is widespread among postpartum women, with strikingly similar data emerging from ART services around the globe and indications that similar challenges may be encountered by postpartum care services outside the context of HIV. However, the drivers of disengagement require further research, and evidence-based intervention strategies are limited.


The challenges of engaging women in ART services during pregnancy and the postpartum period seem pervasive, although the determinants of these are poorly understood. Looking forward, a host of innovative intervention approaches are needed to help improve women's engagement, and in turn, promote maternal and child health in the context of HIV.

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