Background: In Africa, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected patients who present to care with CD4 levels >350 cells/µL (ie, current antiretroviral treatment thresholds) are often thought to be poorly retained in care, but most estimates do not account for outcomes among patients lost to follow-up.
Methods: We evaluated HIV-infected adults who had made a visit in the last 2.5 years in a program in Uganda. We identified a random sample of patients lost to follow-up (9 months without a visit). Ascertainers sought patients in the community in this sample and outcomes were incorporated into revised survival estimates of mortality and retention for the clinic population using a probability weight.
Results: Of 6473 patients, (29% male, median age 29 years, median CD4 count 550 cells/µL), 1294 (20%) became lost to follow-up over 2.5 years. Two hundred seven (16%) randomly selected lost patients were sought, and in 175 (85%) vital status was ascertained. In 19 of 175 (11%), the patient had died. Of the 156 (89%) alive, 74 (47%) were interviewed in person, and 38 of 74 (51%) reported HIV care elsewhere, whereas 36 of 74 (49%) were not in care. Application of weights derived from sampling found that at 2.5 years, retention among patients who enrolled with CD4 levels >350 cells/µL was 88.2% and mortality was 2.5%. Lower income, unemployment, and rural residence were associated with failure to be retained.
Conclusions: Retention in patients entering care with high CD4 counts under routine program conditions in Africa is high in a Ugandan care program and may be systematically underestimated in many other settings.
Keywords: Africa; CD4; HIV; retention.