Loss to follow-up in a community clinic in South Africa – roles of gender, pregnancy and CD4 count
Background. Faith-based organisations have expanded antiretroviral therapy (ART) in community clinics across South Africa. Loss to follow-up (LTFU), however, limits the potential individual and population treatment benefits and optimal care. Objective. To identify patient characteristics associated with LTFU 6 months after starting ART in a large community clinic. Methods. Patients initiating ART between April 2004 and October 2006 in one South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference HIV treatment clinic who had at least one follow-up visit were included and routinely monitored every 6 months after ART initiation. Standardised instruments were used to collect data. Rates of LTFU over time were estimated by the Kaplan-Meier method. The Cox proportional hazard regression examined the impact of age, baseline CD4 count, baseline HIV RNA, gender and pregnancy status on LTFU. Results. Data from 925 patients (age >14 years, median age 36 years, 70% female, of whom 16% were pregnant) were included: 51 (6%) were lost to follow-up 6 months after ART initiation. Younger age (≤30 years) (hazard ratio (HR) 2.14, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05 - 4.38) and pregnancy for women (HR 3.75, 95% CI 1.53 - 9.16) were significantly associated with higher LTFU rates. When stratified by baseline CD4 count, gender and pregnancy status, pregnant women with lower baseline CD4 counts (≤200 cells/ μl) had 6.06 times the hazard (95% CI 2.20 - 16.71) of LTFU at 6 months compared with men. Conclusions. HIV-infected pregnant women initiating ART were significantly more likely to be lost to follow-up in a community clinic in South Africa. Urgent interventions to successfully retain pregnant women in care are needed.