Mixed methods in biomedical intervention trials yield rich data – the VOICE-D qualitative study

How presentation of drug detection results changed reports of product adherence in South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Musara P, Montgomery ET, Mgodi NM, Woeber K, Akello CA, Hartmann M, Cheng H, Levy L, Katz A, Grossman CI, Chirenje ZM, van der Straten A, Mensch B. AIDS Behav. 2017 Jan 21. doi: 10.1007/s10461-017-1685-x. [Epub ahead of print]

Accurate estimates of study product use are critical to understanding and addressing adherence challenges in HIV prevention trials. The VOICE trial exposed a significant gap between self-reported adherence and drug detection. The VOICE-D qualitative study was designed to better understand non-adherence during VOICE, and was conducted in 2 stages: before (stage 1) and after (stage 2) drug detection results were provided to participants. Transcripts from 44 women who participated in both stages were analysed to understand the effect of presenting drug detection data on narratives of product use. Thirty-six women reported high adherence in stage 1, yet admitted non-use in stage 2, three reported high adherence in both stages (contrary to their drug detection results) and five had consistent responses across both stages and drug results. Presenting objective measures of use may facilitate more accurate product use reporting and should be evaluated in future prevention trials.

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Editor’s notes: The VOICE trial looked at the effectiveness of PrEP and vaginal microbicides in women in three African countries. One of the findings of the study was low product adherence among some women, based on retrospective drug level testing. In this paper, the authors compare data on product adherence from before and after participants were given plasma drug detection results. The findings are revealing, not least because many of women interviewed explained why they had claimed to be adhering to the drug, when they were not. Women gave many reasons for not being open about taking their medicines/use of the microbicide. It is interesting that a few women continued to say that they were good adherers, even when presented with drug plasma data, which suggested otherwise. This, the authors note, requires further investigation. 

The findings provide valuable evidence of the shortcomings of collecting self-reported adherence data. The use of biomedical markers to reveal drug plasma levels is important. However, the qualitative research, which documented the discussion around those findings, is both fascinating and extremely useful. Perhaps in future there will be an even greater willingness to fund good qualitative research as a key component of trials?

South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe
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