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Treatment eligibility and retention in clinical HIV care: A regression discontinuity study in South Africa

Bor, J; Fox, MP; Rosen, S; Venkataramani, A; Tanser, F; Pillay, D; Bärnighausen, T; (2017) Treatment eligibility and retention in clinical HIV care: A regression discontinuity study in South Africa. PLoS Medicine , 14 (11) , Article e1002463. 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002463. Green open access

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Loss to follow-up is high among HIV patients not yet receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). Clinical trials have demonstrated the clinical efficacy of early ART; however, these trials may miss an important real-world consequence of providing ART at diagnosis: its impact on retention in care. METHODS AND FINDINGS: We examined the effect of immediate (versus deferred) ART on retention in care using a regression discontinuity design. The analysis included all patients (N = 11,306) entering clinical HIV care with a first CD4 count between 12 August 2011 and 31 December 2012 in a public-sector HIV care and treatment program in rural South Africa. Patients were assigned to immediate versus deferred ART eligibility, as determined by a CD4 count < 350 cells/μl, per South African national guidelines. Patients referred to pre-ART care were instructed to return every 6 months for CD4 monitoring. Patients initiated on ART were instructed to return at 6 and 12 months post-initiation and annually thereafter for CD4 and viral load monitoring. We assessed retention in HIV care at 12 months, as measured by the presence of a clinic visit, lab test, or ART initiation 6 to 18 months after initial CD4 test. Differences in retention between patients presenting with CD4 counts just above versus just below the 350-cells/μl threshold were estimated using local linear regression models with a data-driven bandwidth and with the algorithm for selecting the bandwidth chosen ex ante. Among patients with CD4 counts close to the 350-cells/μl threshold, having an ART-eligible CD4 count (<350 cells/μl) was associated with higher 12-month retention than not having an ART-eligible CD4 count (50% versus 32%), an intention-to-treat risk difference of 18 percentage points (95% CI 11 to 23; p < 0.001). The decision to start ART was determined by CD4 count for one in four patients (25%) presenting close to the eligibility threshold (95% CI 20% to 31%; p < 0.001). In this subpopulation, having an ART-eligible CD4 count was associated with higher 12-month retention than not having an ART-eligible CD4 count (91% versus 21%), a complier causal risk difference of 70 percentage points (95% CI 42 to 98; p < 0.001). The major limitations of the study are the potential for limited generalizability, the potential for outcome misclassification, and the absence of data on longer-term health outcomes. CONCLUSIONS: Patients who were eligible for immediate ART had dramatically higher retention in HIV care than patients who just missed the CD4-count eligibility cutoff. The clinical and population health benefits of offering immediate ART regardless of CD4 count may be larger than suggested by clinical trials.

Type: Article
Title: Treatment eligibility and retention in clinical HIV care: A regression discontinuity study in South Africa
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002463
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002463
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2017 Bor et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Medical Sciences > Div of Infection and Immunity
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10039788
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