Increasing HIV testing by sharing the load and updating tasks and traditions for traditional birth attendants and lay providers

Editor’s notes: Nigeria still has the highest number of new HIV infections among children in the world, around 40 000 annually, with the large majority arising from mother to child transmission.  In Nigeria, less than 20% of pregnant women receive HIV testing. This is due to several issues which include a limited number of HIV testing service delivery points and a limited number of deliveries taking place at health facilities.  Around two thirds of deliveries take place at home, traditionally supported by traditional birth attendants (TBAs).  Many TBAs in Nigeria have little knowledge of either the benefits or practice of HIV testing, nor of ways to reduce transmission of HIV to infants.

Chizoba and colleagues have developed and tested a model of antenatal care that aims to integrate TBAs within the government primary health care (PHC) network.  The intervention consisted of PHC clinics identifying a few TBAs who operated in the catchment area of the clinic. Between one and five of these TBAs was invited to the PHC clinic for a one-day training on HIV point of care testing, and asked to refer all women found to be positive to the clinic for confirmation and follow up.  Once a month TBAs came to the clinic for encouragement and to provide data on tests performed.  Once a quarter, the clinic visited the TBAs to provide supervision, mentoring and quality improvement training.  The TBAs were also paid $2 for every pregnant woman whom they tested for HIV, in order to compensate them for any loss of earnings from pregnant women living with HIV who would now be seen in the clinic rather than delivering at home. 

The authors used a quasi-experimental design for this study. Out of the 74 PEPFAR supported PHC clinics that provided HIV services in their antenatal clinics in Ebonyi state of Nigeria, 34 were interested in this new integrated approach, whereas 40 expressed no interest.  20 clinics were chosen at random from each of these categories, to avoid additional selection bias.  (Although as the authors state, there may already be considerable differences between the clinics that were interested and clinics that were not).  Comparisons were made before and after the programme was put in place, and also between clinics in the intervention group and those in the group that had not been interested to integrate services with the TBAs.

Despite this non-randomized design, the results are quite striking with more than twice as many women receiving HIV testing in the intervention clinics in the six months after the intervention began (going up from 2501 to 5346 across the 20 clinics).  There was no such increase in the non-intervention areas (which saw a change from 1770 to 1892 across the 20 clinics).  Furthermore the large majority of the increase was among women who had been tested by the TBAs. 

While this is hugely encouraging and a big increase, it will be important to see if the increase can be sustained as it is a significant change in the way that the TBAs and the PHC clinic staff work.  It is also not clear how much the increase is a result of the integration model and how much it relates to the additional payment that TBAs receive, which seems to amount to around $100 per TBA over the 6 month period of the assessment.

A thorough review of the role of trained lay providers in performing HIV tests was carried out as part of the WHO process that led to the guidance in 2015 that “Lay providers who are trained and supervised to use rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) can independently conduct safe and effective HIV testing services.” Kennedy and colleagues now present the details of that systematic review.

Many national policies, particularly in African countries allow for HIV testing by trained lay providers using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and even more allow lay providers to perform pre- and post-test counselling (around 80% of African countries in one survey of policies).  However, some countries limit these roles to trained healthcare providers due to concerns about lay providers’ ability to perform the tests accurately and reliably and to deliver high quality pre- and post-test counselling, linkage to appropriate prevention and clinical care services, and coordination with laboratory services to ensure the delivery of correct test results.

Despite widespread use of lay providers, there are actually rather few studies that directly compare the outcomes of testing between lay and professional providers.  The authors reviewed over 6000 titles, abstracts or full articles and found only five that allowed a direct comparison, while an additional six studies allowed the values and preferences of clients and providers to be assessed.

While this evidence base is very limited, findings from the single randomized trial (in the US) and one observational study (in Malawi), that compared pre- and post-intervention time periods, suggest that using trained lay providers can increase HIV testing uptake.  Three studies compared the quality of testing between lay providers and professional providers and found that both can achieve similar testing quality. Unfortunately, no studies measured adverse events following testing, nor linkage to care. The six values and preferences studies, also found support for lay providers.

This is the key evidence that underpins the strong recommendation from WHO and now also from many national authorities, that trained lay providers are an essential component in the efforts to scale up HIV testing in order to reach the first 90.

Increasing HIV testing among pregnant women in Nigeria: evaluating the traditional birth attendant and primary health center integration (TAP-In) model.

Chizoba AF, Pharr JR, Oodo G, Ezeobi E, Ilozumb J, Egharevba J, Ezeanolue EE, Nwandu A. AIDS Care. 2017 Apr 18:1-5. doi: 10.1080/09540121.2017.1317325. [Epub ahead of print]

Engaging Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) may be critical to preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) in Nigeria. We integrated TBAs into Primary Health Centers (PHCs) and provided the TBAs with HIV counseling and testing (HCT) training for PMTCT (TAP-In). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of TAP-In on HCT uptake among pregnant women. A quasi-experimental design was used for this study. Twenty PHCs were assigned to the intervention group that integrated TAP-In and 20 were assigned to the control group. Data were collected six months prior to the initiation of TAP-In and six months post, using antenatal clinic registries. Intervention PHCs more than doubled the number of pregnant women who received HCT in their catchment area post TAP-In while control PHCs had no significant change. After initiating TAP-In, intervention PHCs provided almost three times more HCT than the control PHCs (p < 0.01) with TBA provided over half of the HCT post TAP-In. The TAP-In model was effective for increasing HCT among pregnant women.

Abstract access 

Should trained lay providers perform HIV testing? A systematic review to inform World Health Organization guidelines.

Kennedy CE, Yeh PT, Johnson C, Baggaley R. AIDS Care. 2017 Apr 24:1-7. doi:10.1080/09540121.2017.1317710. [Epub ahead of print.]

New strategies for HIV testing services (HTS) are needed to achieve UN 90-90-90 targets, including diagnosis of 90% of people living with HIV. Task-sharing HTS to trained lay providers may alleviate health worker shortages and better reach target groups. We conducted a systematic review of studies evaluating HTS by lay providers using rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs). Peer-reviewed articles were included if they compared HTS using RDTs performed by trained lay providers to HTS by health professionals, or to no intervention. We also reviewed data on end-users' values and preferences around lay providers preforming HTS. Searching was conducted through 10 online databases, reviewing reference lists, and contacting experts. Screening and data abstraction were conducted in duplicate using systematic methods. Of 6113 unique citations identified, 5 studies were included in the effectiveness review and 6 in the values and preferences review. One US-based randomized trial found patients' uptake of HTS doubled with lay providers (57% vs. 27%, percent difference: 30, 95% confidence interval: 27-32, p < 0.001). In Malawi, a pre/post study showed increases in HTS sites and tests after delegation to lay providers. Studies from Cambodia, Malawi, and South Africa comparing testing quality between lay providers and laboratory staff found little discordance and high sensitivity and specificity (≥98%). Values and preferences studies generally found support for lay providers conducting HTS, particularly in non-hypothetical scenarios. Based on evidence supporting using trained lay providers, a WHO expert panel recommended lay providers be allowed to conduct HTS using HIV RDTs. Uptake of this recommendation could expand HIV testing to more people globally.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access

Africa, Asia
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