Background - Long-term regular follow-up and high retention are the anticipated outcomes for the wellness and longevity of HIV/AIDS patients on antiretroviral treatment. However, these anticipated outcomes are marred by patient loss to follow-up (LTFU) which is currently exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. This study aims to determine the prevalence and potential risk factors to LTFU among HIV/AIDS patients on ART at two rural district hospitals in South Africa.
Methods— This is a retrogressive observational study whereby a cohort of HIV/AIDS patients was retrospectively followed from 2010 to 2017 until loss to follow-up occurred or until the end of the observation period at Carolina and Embhuleni hospitals. An institutional based retrospective cohort study was undertaken among children, adolescents and adults living with HIV/AIDS and attending ART clinic between January 1, 2010 and June 30, 2017. Loss to follow up was defined as not taking an ART refill for a period of 90 days or longer from the last attendance for refill and not yet classified as ‘dead’ or ‘transferred-out’ patient. Patient information was obtained from the routine hospitals’ records, and the data were analysed using Generalized gamma distribution to identify the predictors of loss to follow up among HIV/AIDS patients while Kaplan-Meier model was used to estimate and compare the LTFU survival probabilities of heterogenous groups among the patients.
Results— Of the 357 patients, 60.5% were female. The mean (SD) age of the cohort was 36.2 (14.1), 15.4 (3.5), and 5.1 (3.5) years for adults, adolescents, and children, respectively. From 357 HIV/AIDS patients, 93 (26.05%) were lost to follow-up. Empirical results show that the Weibull distribution gives the best fit to the data. The Weibull model determined the Factors associated with significant risk factors to patient loss to follow up as: regimen EFV+D4T+3TC [HR: 2.0 CI;(1.3–3.1)], regimen EFV+AZT+3TC [HR: 2.9 CI;(1.3–6.4)], regimen EFV+3TC+TDF [HR: 10.0 CI;(3.9–25.9)], regimen NVP+3TC+TDF [HR: 10.6 CI;(1.8–62.4)], follow up CD4 [HR: 1.0 CI;(1.0–1.0)], log(follow up viral load) [HR: 0.8 CI;(0.7–0.9)], marital status (married) [HR: 0.4 CI;(0.3–0.8)], marital status (cohabitation) [HR: 0.6 CI;(0.3–0.9)], ART adherence (fair) [HR: 2.4 CI;(1.3–3.4)], ART adherence (good) [HR: 4.6 CI;(2.2–9.5)] and age [HR: 1.02 CI;(1.0–1.04)].
Discussion— Effective control and tracing measures in the at-risk population and in defaulters need to be stepped up especially during this COVID-19 period, to improve retention in hospitals. There is also need for careful adherence counseling and assessment of medication supplies.
Conclusion— LTFU is more pronounced among females and is highest among adolescents. Patients with increased risk for LTFU were consistent with ART regimens, viral load, age, CD4 count, adherence and marital status.