Risk factors for loss to follow-up from antiretroviral therapy programmes in low-income and middle-income countries

AIDS. 2020 Jul 15;34(9):1261-1288. doi: 10.1097/QAD.0000000000002523.


Introduction: Loss to follow-up (LTFU) rates from antiretroviral treatment (ART) programmes in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) are high, leading to poor treatment outcomes and onward transmission of HIV. Knowledge of risk factors is required to address LTFU. In this systematic review, risk factors for LTFU are identified and meta-analyses performed.

Methods: PubMed, Embase, Psycinfo and Cochrane were searched for studies that report on potential risk factors for LTFU in adults who initiated ART in LMICs. Meta-analysis was performed for risk factors evaluated by at least five studies. Pooled effect estimates and their 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) were calculated using random effect models with inverse variance weights. Risk of bias was assessed and sensitivity analyses performed.

Results: Eighty studies were included describing a total of 1 605 320 patients of which 87.4% from sub-Saharan Africa. The following determinants were significantly associated with an increased risk of LTFU in meta-analysis: male sex, older age, being single, unemployment, lower educational status, advanced WHO stage, low weight, worse functional status, poor adherence, nondisclosure, not receiving cotrimoxazole prophylactic therapy when indicated, receiving care at secondary level and more recent year of initiation. No association was seen for CD4 cell count, tuberculosis at baseline, regimen, and geographical setting.

Conclusion: There are several sociodemographic, clinical, patient behaviour, treatment-related and system level risk factors for LTFU from ART programs. Knowledge of risk factors should be used to better target retention interventions and develop tools to identify high-risk patients.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Aged
  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antiretroviral Therapy, Highly Active / methods*
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Lost to Follow-Up*
  • Male
  • Medication Adherence
  • Retention in Care
  • Risk Factors


  • Anti-HIV Agents