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Pilot programme for the rapid initiation of antiretroviral therapy in pregnancy in Cape Town, South Africa

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Initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in pregnancy is an important intervention to prevent the mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV and to promote maternal health. Early initiation of ART is particularly important to achieve viral suppression rapidly before delivery. However, current approaches to start ART in pregnancy may be problematic in many settings, with referrals between antenatal care (ANC) and ART services, and delays for patient preparation before ART initiation. These steps contribute to a sizable proportion of women failing to receive adequate duration of ART before delivery, increasing the risk of MTCT. To address these limitations, we developed the rapid initiation of antiretroviral therapy in pregnancy (RAP) programme. The programme featured the use of point-of-care CD4 testing to identify ART-eligible women with CD4 cell counts ≤ 350 cells/┬Ál; immediate ART initiation in women on the same day that eligibility was determined, if possible; and intensive counselling and support for ART initiation during the first few weeks on ART. We implemented RAP in an antenatal clinic setting in Cape Town South Africa. Between February and August 2011, a total of 221 HIV-infected women were referred to the programme for CD4 cell count testing and 101 (46%) were eligible for ART. Of these, 98 women (97%) started therapy during pregnancy, 89 (91%) on the day of referral to the service. In-depth interviews suggested that although there were substantial challenges facing HIV-infected women initiating ART in pregnancy, the availability of immediate services and counselling support played an important role in addressing these. While further research is needed, this evaluation demonstrates that a novel service delivery approach may facilitate rapid ART initiation in pregnancy.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS; South Africa; antiretroviral therapy; pregnancy; prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT); treatment initiation

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: School of Public Health & Family Medicine,University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa 2: Department of Health, Behavior and Society,Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore,MD, USA 3: Desmond Tutu HIV Centre,Institute of Infectious Diseases & Molecular Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa 4: Provincial Government of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa

Publication date: August 1, 2012

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