Multidisciplinary Point-of-Care Testing in South African Primary Health Care Clinics Accelerates HIV ART Initiation but Does Not Alter Retention in Care
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.Methods:
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.Results:
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).Conclusions:
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.