Background: This study evaluated two models of routine HIV testing of hospitalized children in a high HIV-prevalence resource-constrained African setting. Both models incorporated "task shifting," or the allocation of tasks to the least-costly, capable health worker.
Methods and findings: Two models were piloted for three months each within the pediatric department of a referral hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi between January 1 and June 30, 2008. Model 1 utilized lay counselors for HIV testing instead of nurses and clinicians. Model 2 further shifted program flow and advocacy responsibilities from counselors to volunteer parents of HIV-infected children, called "patient escorts." A retrospective review of data from 6318 hospitalized children offered HIV testing between January-December 2008 was conducted. The pilot quarters of Model 1 and Model 2 were compared, with Model 2 selected to continue after the pilot period. There was a 2-fold increase in patients offered HIV testing with Model 2 compared with Model 1 (43.1% vs 19.9%, p<0.001). Furthermore, patients in Model 2 were younger (17.3 vs 26.7 months, p<0.001) and tested sooner after admission (1.77 vs 2.44 days, p<0.001). There were no differences in test acceptance or enrollment rates into HIV care, and the program trends continued 6 months after the pilot period. Overall, 10244 HIV antibody tests (4779 maternal; 5465 child) and 453 DNA-PCR tests were completed, with 97.8% accepting testing. 19.6% of all mothers (n = 1112) and 8.5% of all children (n = 525) were HIV-infected. Furthermore, 6.5% of children were HIV-exposed (n = 405). Cumulatively, 72.9% (n = 678) of eligible children were evaluated in the hospital by a HIV-trained clinician, and 68.3% (n = 387) successfully enrolled into outpatient HIV care.
Conclusions/significance: The strategy presented here, task shifting from lay counselors alone to lay counselors and patient escorts, greatly improved program outcomes while only marginally increasing operational costs. The wider implementation of this strategy could accelerate pediatric HIV care access in high-prevalence settings.