Multidisciplinary Point-of-Care Testing in South African Primary Health Care Clinics Accelerates HIV ART Initiation but Does Not Alter Retention in Care

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Lack of accessible laboratory infrastructure limits HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation, monitoring, and retention in many resource-limited settings. Point-of-care testing (POCT) is advocated as a mechanism to overcome these limitations. We executed a pragmatic, prospective, randomized, controlled trial comparing the impact of POCT vs. standard of care (SOC) on treatment initiation and retention in care.


Selected POC technologies were embedded at 3 primary health clinics in South Africa. Confirmed HIV-positive participants were randomized to either SOC or POC: SOC participants were venesected and specimens referred to the laboratory with patient follow-up as per algorithm (∼3 visits); POC participants had phlebotomy and POCT immediately on-site using Pima CD4 to assess ART eligibility followed by hematology, chemistry, and tuberculosis screening with the goal of receiving same-day adherence counseling and treatment initiation. Participant outcomes measured at recruitment 6 and 12 months after initiation.


Four hundred thirty-two of 717 treatment eligible participants enrolled between May 2012 and September 2013: 198 (56.7%) SOC; 234 (63.6%) POC. Mean age was 37.4 years; 60.5% were female. Significantly more participants were initiated using POC [adjusted prevalence ratio (aPR) 0.83; 95% confidence interval (CI): 0.74 to 0.93; P < 0.0001], the median time to initiation was 1 day for POC and 26.5 days for SOC. The proportion of patients in care and on ART was similar for both arms at 6 months (47 vs. 50%) (aPR 0.96; 95% CI: 0.79 to 1.16) and 12 months (32 vs. 32%) (aPR 1.05; 95% CI: 0.80 to 1.38), with similar mortality rates. Loss to follow-up at 12 months was higher for POC (36% vs. 51%) (aPR 0.82; 95% CI: 0.65 to 1.04).


Adoption of POCT accelerated ART initiation but once on treatment, there was unexpectedly higher loss to follow-up on POC and no improvement in outcomes at 12 months over SOC.

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