Impact of Facility-Based Mother Support Groups on Retention in Care and PMTCT Outcomes in Rural Zimbabwe: The EPAZ Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial

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Abstract

Background:

Prevention of mother-to-child transmission elimination goals are hampered by low rates of retention in care. The Eliminating Paediatric AIDS in Zimbabwe project assessed whether mother support groups (MSGs) improve rates of retention in care of HIV-exposed infants and their HIV-positive mothers, and maternal and infant outcomes.

Methods:

The study involved 27 rural clinics in eastern Zimbabwe. MSGs were established in 14 randomly selected clinics and met every 2 weeks coordinated by volunteer HIV-positive mothers. MSG coordinators provided health education and reminded mothers of MSG meetings by cell phone. Infant retention in care was defined as “12 months postpartum point attendance” at health care visits of HIV-exposed infants at 12 months of age. We also measured regularity of attendance and other program indicators of HIV-positive mothers and their HIV-exposed infants.

Results:

Among 507 HIV-positive pregnant women assessed as eligible, 348 were enrolled and analyzed (69%) with mothers who had disclosed their HIV status being overrepresented. In the intervention arm, 69% of infants were retained in care at 12 months versus 61% in the control arm, with no statistically significant difference. Retention and other program outcomes were systematically higher in the intervention versus control arm, suggesting trends toward positive health outcomes with exposure to MSGs.

Discussion:

We were unable to show that facility-based MSGs improved retention in care at 12 months among HIV-exposed infants. Selective enrollment of mothers more likely to be retained-in-care may have contributed to lack of effect. Methods to increase the impact of MSGs on retention including targeting of high-risk mothers are discussed.

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