Background: Despite increasing access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), the proportion of eligible patients initiated on treatment remains suboptimal. Only 64.6% of the people living with HIV (PLHIV) globally were initiated on ART by June 2019. The streamlined ART (START-ART) implementation study was based on the PRECEDE model, which suggests that "predisposing, enabling, and reinforcing" factors are needed to create behavior change. START-ART increased ART initiation within 2 weeks of eligibility by 42%. However, the gains from some implementation interventions erode over time. We evaluated facilitators and barriers to sustainability of this streamlined ART initiation in the year following the implementation period.
Methods: We designed a mixed-methods explanatory sequential study to examine the sustainability of START-ART implementation. Quantitative component consisted of cross-sectional patient chart reviews of routinely collected data; qualitative component consisted of key informant interviews of health workers in START-ART facilities 2 years after conclusion of the implementation period. We analyzed data from 15 public health centers of Mbarara district, where the START-ART implementation was carried out. We included PLHIV aged > 18 years who initiated ART from June 2013 to July 2016. The START-ART implementation took place from June 2013 to June 2015 while the sustainability period was from August 2015 to July 2016.
Results: A total of 863 ART-eligible patients were sampled. The median CD4 count was 348 cells/ml (IQR 215-450). During the intervention, 338 (77.4%) eligible patients initiated on ART within 2 weeks compared with 375 (88.2%) during the sustainability period (risk difference 10.8%; 95% CI 5.9-15.8%). In 14 of the 15 health centers, the intervention was sustained. During key informant interviews, rapid ART initiation sustainability was attributed to counseling skills that were obtained during intervention and availability of point-of-care (POC) CD4 PIMA machine. Failure to sustain the intervention was attributed to three specific barriers: lack of training after the intervention, transfer of trained staff to other health facilities, and shortage of supplies like cartridges for POC CD4 PIMA machine.
Conclusion: Rapid ART initiation was sustained in most health centers. Skills acquired during the intervention and functional POC CD4 machine facilitated while staff transfers and irregular laboratory supplies were barriers to sustainability of rapid ART initiation.