Poor adherence during the first three months post-delivery among women on Option B+

Adherence to antiretroviral therapy during and after pregnancy: cohort study on women receiving care in Malawi's Option B+ program.

Haas AD, Msukwa MT, Egger M, Tenthani L, Tweya H, Jahn A, Gadabu OJ, Tal K, Salazar-Vizcaya L, Estill J, Spoerri A, Phiri N, Chimbwandira F, van Oosterhout JJ, Keiser O. Clin Infect Dis. 2016 Nov 1;63(9):1227-1235. Epub 2016 Jul 26.

Background: Adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) is crucial to preventing mother-to-child transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and ensuring the long-term effectiveness of ART, yet data are sparse from African routine care programs on maternal adherence to triple ART.

Methods: We analyzed data from women who started ART at 13 large health facilities in Malawi between September 2011 and October 2013. We defined adherence as the percentage of days "covered" by pharmacy claims. Adherence of ≥90% was deemed adequate. We calculated inverse probability of censoring weights to adjust adherence estimates for informative censoring. We used descriptive statistics, survival analysis, and pooled logistic regression to compare adherence between pregnant and breastfeeding women eligible for ART under Option B+, and nonpregnant and nonbreastfeeding women who started ART with low CD4 cell counts or World Health Organization clinical stage 3/4 disease.

Results: Adherence was adequate for 73% of the women during pregnancy, for 66% in the first 3 months post partum, and for about 75% during months 4-21 post partum. About 70% of women who started ART during pregnancy and breastfeeding adhered adequately during the first 2 years of ART, but only about 30% of them had maintained adequate adherence at every visit. Risk factors for inadequate adherence included starting ART with an Option B+ indication, at a younger age, or at a district hospital or health center.

Conclusions: One-third of women retained in the Option B+ program adhered inadequately during pregnancy and breastfeeding, especially soon after delivery. Effective interventions to improve adherence among women in this program should be implemented.

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Editor’s notes: To maximize the impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART), people living with HIV should be diagnosed early, enrolled and retained in pre-ART care, initiated on ART and retained in ART care.  Long-term adherence to achieve and maintain viral load suppression is the last step in the continuum of HIV care.

“Option B+” is the programmatic option for preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, pioneered by Malawi, in which combination ART is started during pregnancy and continued life-long. This manuscript describes adherence to ART among pregnant women in the Option B+ programme in Malawi. The authors had access to prospectively-collected pharmacy data, and created an adherence measure that estimates the percentage of days ARVs were actually available to women during a time period. Therefore, this indicator measures the maximum number of days that ART could have been taken, but does not measure how much of the treatment was actually consumed. In this study, about a quarter of women started on ART with an Option B+ indication were lost to follow-up during the first year of ART. Among women retained, 30% adhered inadequately during pregnancy and breastfeeding, especially during the first three months after delivery. Unreported transfers of care to other clinics after delivery, postnatal depression, or difficulties with travelling to the facilities may be explanations for this temporary decline in adherence.

The authors validated their pharmacy-based adherence measure against viral load data in a subsample of about 500 people. They found that their adherence measure correlated well with the viral load measurement, and suggest that if access to viral load testing is limited, pharmacy-based adherence measures might be useful to identify people with adherence problems for targeted viral load testing.

These data are consistent with other studies reporting suboptimal retention particularly among women starting ART during pregnancy. Suboptimal adherence to ART during breastfeeding increases the risk of post-natal transmission, and the risk of the emergence of resistant virus in both mother and infant, as well as compromising the mother’s treatment outcome. Programmes need to address these issues in order to support adherence and retention in the early post-natal period. 

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