Randomized feasibility trial to improve hydroxyurea adherence in youth ages 10–18 years through community health workers: The HABIT study

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The main therapeutic intervention for sickle cell disease (SCD) is hydroxyurea (HU). The effect of HU is largely through dose-dependent induction of fetal hemoglobin (HbF). Poor HU adherence is common among adolescents.


Our 6-month, two-site pilot intervention trial, “HABIT,” was led by culturally aligned community health workers (CHWs). CHWs performed support primarily through home visits, augmented by tailored text message reminders. Dyads of youth with SCD ages 10–18 years and a parent were enrolled. A customized HbF biomarker, the percentage decrease from each patients' highest historical HU-induced HbF, “Personal best,” was used to qualify for enrollment and assess HU adherence. Two primary outcomes were as follows: (1) intervention feasibility and acceptability and (2) HU adherence measured in three ways: monthly percentage improvement toward HbF Personal best, proportion of days covered (PDC) by HU, and self-report.


Twenty-eight dyads were enrolled, of which 89% were retained. Feasibility and acceptability were excellent. Controlling for group assignment and month of intervention, the intervention group improved percentage decrease from Personal best by 2.3% per month during months 0–4 (P = 0.30), with similar improvement in adherence demonstrated using pharmacy records. Self-reported adherence did not correlate. Dyads viewed CHWs as supportive for learning about SCD and HU, living with SCD and making progress in coordinated self-management responsibility to support a daily HU habit. Most parents and youth appreciated text message HU reminders.


The HABIT pilot intervention demonstrated feasibility and acceptability with promising effect toward improved medication adherence. Testing in a larger multisite intervention trial is warranted.

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