It is important for HIV infected patients to take their drugs regularly. Interruptions in treatment lead to viral strains that are resistant to the cheapest medications, and to higher rates of illness and death. Unfortunately, many AIDS patients do not come for their antiretroviral medications. Such patients are labelled as “lost to follow-up.”
During the early years of antiretroviral treatment (ART) drug distribution in Africa, researchers reported high rates of adherence to treatment, often as high as in Europe or the United States. At the same time, studies showed higher early mortality rates among patients treated with antiretroviral drugs in settings with limited resources. A reason for the high death rates was late presentation of patients to care.
In a recent review of 2191 adult HIV patients in south Ethiopia, we show that patients now start to present at earlier stages of their illness, and death has decreased among adult HIV patients. Early treatment start contributed to improved survival (Mulissa, Jerene and Lindtjørn, 2010).
Unfortunately, 25 per cent were lost before that started treatment. This means they were diagnosed, but did not return for treatment, and this have increased during the recent years. We also found that 15% per cent of those who start treatment were lost to follow up. 40% of the latter group had died, and 20% had started treatment in another institution.
Some ART programmes in Africa are experimenting with different programmes to reduce loss to follow-up. Some organizations offer a two- or three-month supply of medication for each clinic visit, others deliver drugs to patients’ homes, and some have tried to refund patients for transport costs. None of these efforts have been evaluated.
Mulissa, Z., Jerene, D., & Lindtjørn, B. (2010). Patients Present Earlier and Survival Has Improved, but Pre-ART Attrition Is High in a Six-Year HIV Cohort Data from Ethiopia PLoS ONE, 5 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013268