HIV testing in mobile units: improved early testing but poor linkage to care

Linkage to care following community-based mobile HIV testing compared with clinic-based testing in Umlazi Township, Durban, South Africa.

Bassett I, Regan S, Luthuli P, Mbonambi H, Bearnot B, Pendleton A, Robine M, Mukuvisi D, Thulare H, Walensky R, Freedberg K, Losina E, Mhlongo B. HIV Med. 2013 Nov 19. doi:10.1111/hiv.12115. [Epub ahead of print]

Objectives: The aim of the study was to assess HIV prevalence, disease stage and linkage to HIV care following diagnosis at a mobile HIV testing unit, compared with results for clinic-based testing, in a Durban township.

Methods: This was a prospective cohort study. We enrolled adults presenting for HIV testing at a community-based mobile testing unit (mobile testers) and at an HIV clinic (clinic testers) serving the same area. Testers diagnosed with HIV infection, regardless of testing site, were offered immediate CD4 testing and instructed to retrieve results at the clinic. We assessed rates of linkage to care, defined as CD4 result retrieval within 90 days of HIV diagnosis and/or completion of antiretroviral therapy (ART) literacy training, for mobile vs. clinic testers.

Results: From July to November 2011, 6 957 subjects were HIV tested (4 703 mobile and 2 254 clinic); 55% were female. Mobile testers had a lower HIV prevalence than clinic testers (10% vs. 36%, respectively), were younger (median 23 vs. 27 years, respectively) and were more likely to live >5 km or >30 min from the clinic (64% vs. 40%, respectively; all P < 0.001). Mobile testers were less likely to undergo CD4 testing (33% vs. 83%, respectively) but more likely to have higher CD4 counts [median (interquartile range) 416 (287-587) cells/μL vs. 285 (136-482) cells/μL, respectively] than clinic testers (both P < 0.001). Of those who tested HIV positive, 10% of mobile testers linked to care, vs. 72% of clinic testers (P < 0.001).

Conclusions: Mobile HIV testing reaches people who are younger, who are more geographically remote, and who have earlier disease compared with clinic-based testing. Fewer mobile testers underwent CD4 testing and linked to HIV care. Enhancing linkage efforts may improve the impact of mobile testing for those with early HIV disease.

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Editor’s notes: This study confirms observations that mobile HIV testing leads to diagnosis of HIV at an earlier stage of disease compared to clinic-based testing. It also confirms that people diagnosed by mobile services are much less likely to link to ongoing HIV care. Innovative mobile testing services must be linked with iprogrammes to improve linkage.

South Africa
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