Why pregnant women and mothers living with HIV do not access, or do not stay in care

A systematic review of individual and contextual factors affecting ART initiation, adherence, and retention for HIV-infected pregnant and postpartum women.

Hodgson I, Plummer ML, Konopka SN, Colvin CJ, Jonas E, Albertini J, Amzel A, Fogg KP. PLoS One. 2014 Nov 5;9(11):e111421. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111421. eCollection 2014.

Background: Despite progress reducing maternal mortality, HIV-related maternal deaths remain high, accounting, for example, for up to 24 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is effective in improving outcomes among HIV-infected pregnant and postpartum women, yet rates of initiation, adherence, and retention remain low. This systematic literature review synthesized evidence about individual and contextual factors affecting ART use among HIV-infected pregnant and postpartum women.

Methods: Searches were conducted for studies addressing the population (HIV-infected pregnant and postpartum women), intervention (ART), and outcomes of interest (initiation, adherence, and retention). Quantitative and qualitative studies published in English since January 2008 were included. Individual and contextual enablers and barriers to ART use were extracted and organized thematically within a framework of individual, interpersonal, community, and structural categories.

Results: Thirty-four studies were included in the review. Individual-level factors included both those within and outside a woman's awareness and control (e.g., commitment to child's health or age). Individual-level barriers included poor understanding of HIV, ART, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission, and difficulty managing practical demands of ART. At an interpersonal level, disclosure to a spouse and spousal involvement in treatment were associated with improved initiation, adherence, and retention. Fear of negative consequences was a barrier to disclosure. At a community level, stigma was a major barrier. Key structural barriers and enablers were related to health system use and engagement, including access to services and health worker attitudes.

Conclusions: To be successful, programs seeking to expand access to and continued use of ART by integrating maternal health and HIV services must identify and address the relevant barriers and enablers in their own context that are described in this review. Further research on this population, including those who drop out of or never access health services, is needed to inform effective implementation.

Abstract [1] Full-text [free] access [2]

Editor’s notes: This systematic review is one of three by the same team, related to HIV and maternal mortality. The review findings illustrate that the individual and contextual factors which affect antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation, adherence and retention for pregnant/postpartum women living with HIV are numerous. Fears over disclosure, and consequent stigma and discrimination feature in many of the studies reviewed. Practical barriers might be overcome, by making services more accessible. The lack of knowledge about HIV and treatment among some women may be addressed through information campaigns. However, the fear of negative consequences as a result of disclosure, even to health workers, presents significant barriers to care. This is something that is of particular note as Option B+ is rolled out. An important strength of this review is the combination of qualitative and quantitative studies. The meticulous description of the approach to the review is also welcome. The authors’ call for ‘consistent, standardised and appropriate measures of adherence and retention’ with a ‘longitudinal component’, is a valuable suggestion as the performance of countries in providing Option B+ begins to be compared.

Africa [9], Asia [10], Europe [11], Latin America [12], Northern America [13]
Australia [14], Brazil [15], France [16], Ghana [17], Kenya [18], Malawi [19], Nigeria [20], Rwanda [21], South Africa [22], Uganda [23], United Republic of Tanzania [24], United States of America [25], Zambia [26]
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