Introduction: Rapid antiretroviral treatment (ART) initiation reduces time from HIV infection to viral suppression, decreasing HIV transmission risk. Mental health symptoms may influence timing of ART initiation. This study estimated the prevalence of ART initiation at enrolment into HIV care and the relationship between mental health and ART initiation at enrolment into HIV care.
Methods: We conducted interviews with 426 individuals initiating HIV care in Cameroon between June 2019 and March 2020 to estimate the association between mental health and timing of ART initiation. Depression (Patient Health Questionnaire-9; cut-point 10), anxiety (Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7; cut-point 10), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (PTSD Checklist for DSM-5; cut-point 31) and harmful alcohol use (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test; cut-point 16) were dichotomized to represent those with and without each exposure at first HIV care appointment. Date of ART initiation (date ART prescribed) was ascertained from medical records. Separate multivariable log-binomial regression models were used to estimate the association between mental health exposures and ART initiation at enrolment into care.
Results and discussion: Overall, 87% initiated ART at enrolment into HIV care. Approximately 20% reported depressive symptoms, 15% reported PTSD symptoms, 12% reported anxiety symptoms and 13% reported harmful alcohol use. In multivariable analyses, individuals with moderate to severe depressive symptoms had 1.7 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.1, 2.7) times the prevalence of not initiating ART at enrolment into HIV care compared to those with no or mild depressive symptoms. Those with symptoms of PTSD, compared to those without, had 1.9 (95% CI 1.2, 2.9) times the prevalence of not initiating ART at enrolment into HIV care. Symptoms of anxiety or harmful drinking were not associated with ART initiation at enrolment into HIV care in multivariable models.
Conclusions: Symptoms of depression and PTSD were associated with lower prevalence of ART initiation at enrolment into HIV care among this sample of individuals initiating HIV care in Cameroon under a "treat all" policy. Research should examine barriers to timely ART initiation, whether incorporating mental health services into HIV care improves timely ART initiation, and whether untreated symptoms of depression and PTSD drive suboptimal HIV care outcomes.
Keywords: ART initiation; Africa; Cameroon; anxiety; depression; mental health.
© 2021 The Authors. Journal of the International AIDS Society published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of the International AIDS Society.