Langwenya N, Phillips TK, Brittain K, Zerbe A, Abrams EJ, Myer L. J Int AIDS Soc. 2018 Jun;21(6):e25133. doi: 10.1002/jia2.25133.
Many prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission programmes across Africa initiate HIV-infected (HIV positive) pregnant women on lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART) on the first day of antenatal care (“same-day” initiation). However, there are concerns that same-day initiation may limit patient preparation before starting ART and contribute to subsequent non-adherence, disengagement from care and raised viral load. We examined if same-day initiation was associated with viral suppression and engagement in care during pregnancy.
Consecutive ART-eligible pregnant women making their first antenatal care (ANC) visit at a primary care facility in Cape Town, South Africa were enrolled into a prospective cohort between March 2013 and June 2014. Before July 2013, ART eligibility was based on CD4 cell count ≤350 cells/μL (“Option A”), with a 1 to 2 week delay from the first ANC visit to ART initiation for patient preparation; thereafter all women were eligible regardless of CD4 cell count (“Option B+”) and offered ART on the same day as first ANC visit. Women were followed with viral load testing conducted separately from routine ART services, and engagement in ART services was measured using routinely collected clinic, pharmacy and laboratory records through 12 months postpartum.
Among 628 HIV-positive women (median age, 28 years; median gestation at ART start, 21 weeks; 55% newly diagnosed with HIV), 73% initiated ART same-day; this proportion was higher under Option B+ versus Option A (85% vs. 20%). Levels of viral suppression (viral load <50 copies/mL) at delivery (74% vs. 82%) and 12 months postpartum (74% vs. 71%) were similar under same-day versus delayed initiation respectively. Findings were consistent when viral suppression was defined at <1000 copies/mL, after adjustment for demographic/clinical measures and across subgroups of age, CD4 and timing of HIV diagnosis. Time to first viral rebound following initial suppression did not differ by timing of ART initiation nor did engagement in care through 12 months postpartum (same-day = 73%, delayed = 73%, p = 0.910).
These data suggest that same-day ART initiation during pregnancy is not associated with lower levels of engagement in care or viral suppression through 12 months post-delivery in this setting, providing reassurance to ART programmes implementing Option B+.