Background: In many HIV programmes in Africa, patients are assessed clinically and prepared for antiretroviral treatment over a period of 4-12 weeks. Mortality rates following initiation of ART are very high largely because patients present late with advanced disease. The rates of mortality and retention during the pre-treatment period are not well understood. We conducted an observational study to determine these rates.
Methods: HIV-infected subjects presenting at The AIDS Support Clinic in Jinja, SE Uganda, were assessed for antiretroviral therapy (ART). Eligible subjects were given information and counselling in 3 visits done over 4-6 weeks in preparation for treatment. Those who did not complete screening were followed-up at home. Survival analysis was done using poisson regression.
Results: 4321 HIV-infected subjects were screened of whom 2483 were eligible for ART on clinical or immunological grounds. Of these, 637 (26%) did not complete screening and did not start ART. Male sex and low CD4 count were associated independently with not completing screening. At follow-up at a median 351 days, 181 (28%) had died, 189 (30%) reported that they were on ART with a different provider, 158 (25%) were alive but said they were not on ART and 109 (17%) were lost to follow-up. Death rates (95% CI) per 100 person-years were 34 (22, 55) (n.18) within one month and 37 (29, 48) (n.33) within 3 months. 70/158 (44%) subjects seen at follow-up said they had not started ART because they could not afford transport.
Conclusion: About a quarter of subjects eligible for ART did not complete screening and pre-treatment mortality was very high even though patients in this setting were well informed. For many families, the high cost of transport is a major barrier preventing access to ART.