Effectiveness of a combination strategy for linkage and retention in adult HIV care in Swaziland: The Link4Health cluster randomized trial.
BACKGROUND: Gaps in the HIV care continuum contribute to poor health outcomes and increase HIV transmission. A combination of interventions targeting multiple steps in the continuum is needed to achieve the full beneficial impact of HIV treatment.
METHODS AND FINDINGS: Link4Health, a cluster-randomized controlled trial, evaluated the effectiveness of a combination intervention strategy (CIS) versus the standard of care (SOC) on the primary outcome of linkage to care within 1 month plus retention in care at 12 months after HIV-positive testing. Ten clusters of HIV clinics in Swaziland were randomized 1:1 to CIS versus SOC. The CIS included point-of-care CD4+ testing at the time of an HIV-positive test, accelerated antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation for treatment-eligible participants, mobile phone appointment reminders, health educational packages, and noncash financial incentives. Secondary outcomes included each component of the primary outcome, mean time to linkage, assessment for ART eligibility, ART initiation and time to ART initiation, viral suppression defined as HIV-1 RNA < 1,000 copies/mL at 12 months after HIV testing among patients on ART ≥6 months, and loss to follow-up and death at 12 months after HIV testing. A total of 2,197 adults aged ≥18 years, newly tested HIV positive, were enrolled from 19 August 2013 to 21 November 2014 (1,096 CIS arm; 1,101 SOC arm) and followed for 12 months. The median participant age was 31 years (IQR 26-39), and 59% were women. In an intention-to-treat analysis, 64% (705/1,096) of participants at the CIS sites achieved the primary outcome versus 43% (477/1,101) at the SOC sites (adjusted relative risk [RR] 1.52, 95% CI 1.19-1.96, p = 0.002). Participants in the CIS arm versus the SOC arm had the following secondary outcomes: linkage to care regardless of retention at 12 months (RR 1.08, 95% CI 0.97-1.21, p = 0.13), mean time to linkage (2.5 days versus 7.5 days, p = 0.189), retention in care at 12 months regardless of time to linkage (RR 1.48, 95% CI 1.18-1.86, p = 0.002), assessment for ART eligibility (RR 1.20, 95% CI 1.07-1.34, p = 0.004), ART initiation (RR 1.16, 95% CI 0.96-1.40, p = 0.12), mean time to ART initiation from time of HIV testing (7 days versus 14 days, p < 0.001), viral suppression among those on ART for ≥6 months (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.88-1.07, p = 0.55), loss to follow-up at 12 months after HIV testing (RR 0.56, 95% CI 0.40-0.79, p = 0.002), and death (N = 78) within 12 months of HIV testing (RR 0.80, 95% CI 0.46-1.35, p = 0.41). Limitations of this study include a small number of clusters and the inability to evaluate the incremental effectiveness of individual components of the combination strategy.
CONCLUSIONS: A combination strategy inclusive of 5 evidence-based interventions aimed at multiple steps in the HIV care continuum was associated with significant increase in linkage to care plus 12-month retention. This strategy offers promise of enhanced outcomes for HIV-positive patients.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01904994.