Where are we now? A multicountry qualitative study to explore access to pre-antiretroviral care services: a precursor to antiretroviral therapy initiation
To explore barriers and facilitators to accessing postdiagnosis HIV care in five sub-Saharan African countries.
In-depth interviews were conducted with 77 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in pre-antiretroviral therapy care or not-yet-in care and 46 healthcare workers. Participants were purposely selected from health and demographic surveillance sites in Karonga (Malawi), Manicaland (Zimbabwe), uMkhanyakude (South Africa), Kisesa (Tanzania) and Rakai and Kyamulibwa (Uganda). Thematic content analysis was conducted, guided by the constructs of affordability, availability and acceptability of care.- RESULTS: Affordability: Transport and treatment costs were a barrier to HIV care, although some participants travelled to distant clinics to avoid being seen by people who knew them or for specific services. Broken equipment and drug stock-outs in local clinics could also necessitate travel to other facilities. Availability: Some facilities did not offer full HIV care, or only offered all services intermittently. PLHIV who frequently travelled complained that care was seldom available to them in places they visited. Acceptability: Severe pain or sickness was a key driver for accessing postdiagnosis care, whereas asymptomatic PLHIV often delayed care-seeking. A belief in witchcraft was a deterrent to accessing clinical care following diagnosis. Changing antiretroviral therapy guidelines generated uncertainty among PLHIV about when to start treatment and delayed postdiagnosis care. PLHIV reported that healthcare workers' knowledge, attitudes and behaviours, and their ability to impart health education, also influenced whether they accessed HIV care.
Despite efforts to decentralise services over the past decade, many barriers to accessing HIV care persist. There is a need to increase sustained access to care for PLHIV not yet on treatment, with initiatives that encompass biomedical aspects of care alongside considerations for individual and collective challenges they faced. A failure to do so may undermine efforts to achieve universal access to antiretroviral therapy.