Acceptability of a trial of vaginal progesterone for the prevention of preterm birth among HIV-infected women in Lusaka, Zambia: A mixed methods study

PLoS One. 2020 Sep 24;15(9):e0238748. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0238748. eCollection 2020.


Antenatal progesterone prevents preterm birth (PTB) in women with a short cervix or prior PTB in daily vaginal or weekly injectable formulations, respectively. Neither has been tested for the indication of maternal HIV, which is associated with an elevated risk of PTB. The Vaginal Progesterone (VP) Trial was a pilot feasibility study of VP to prevent HIV-related PTB in Lusaka, Zambia. Using mixed methods, we concurrently evaluated the acceptability of the trial and the study product among participants. Over a 1-year period, we enrolled 140 pregnant women living with HIV into a double-masked, placebo-controlled, randomized trial of daily self-administered VP or placebo. We administered an endline questionnaire to all participants and conducted in-depth interviews with 30 participants to assess barriers and facilitators to uptake and retention in the trial and to study product adherence. All interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, translated into English as needed, and independently coded by two analysts to capture emerging themes. Of 131 participants who completed the questionnaire, 128 (98%) reported that nothing was difficult when asked the hardest part about using the study product. When given a hypothetical choice between vaginal and injectable progesterone, 97 (74%) chose vaginal, 31 (24%) injectable, and 3 (2%) stated no preference. Most interviewees reported no difficulties with using the study product; others cited minor side effects and surmountable challenges. Strategies that supported adherence included setting alarms, aligning dosing with antiretrovirals, receiving encouragement from friends and family, sensing a benefit to their unborn baby, and positive feedback from study staff. Participants who reported preference of a vaginal medication over injectable described familiarity with the vaginal product, a fear of needles and resulting pain, and inconvenience of a weekly clinic visit. Those who would prefer weekly injections cited fewer doses to remember. Perceived barriers to study participation included mistrust about the motivations behind research, suspicion of Satanism, and futility or possible harm from a placebo. We report key influences on acceptability of a randomized trial of VP to prevent PTB among HIV-infected women in Zambia, which should inform methods to promote uptake, adherence, and retention in a full-scale trial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Intravaginal
  • Adult
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / complications*
  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Preference
  • Premature Birth / prevention & control*
  • Premature Birth / virology*
  • Progesterone / administration & dosage*
  • Progesterone / pharmacology*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Zambia


  • Progesterone