South Africa introduced Universal Test and Treat in 2016 including antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation on the same-day as HIV diagnosis. Our study sought to evaluate the impact of same-day ART initiation on loss to follow-up (LTFU) and mortality comparing with patients who initiated ART after their HIV diagnosis.
We conducted a file review of patients with a HIV diagnosis and ART start date on file between September 2016 and May 2018 in six high HIV burden districts. Our primary outcome was LTFU (>90 days from the last clinical visit or drug pick-up until database closure 31 July 2018). The secondary outcome was mortality after ART initiation. Time to outcome was assessed comparing same-day vs. one to seven, eight to twenty-one and ≥ twenty-two days to ART initiation using Kaplan-Meier estimators stratified by sex. We investigated predictors using univariate and multivariable Cox proportional hazards models, adjusting for a priori characteristics.
Overall, 92,609 ART patients contributed 43,922 person-years from ART initiation, with a median follow-up time of 246 days (IQR = 112 to 455). Of these patients, 33,399 (36%) initiated ART on the same-day as their HIV diagnosis date and had a median follow-up time of 174 days (IQR = 85 to 349). Same-day patients were predominantly non-pregnant females (56%) and aged 25 to 34 years (40%). Same-day ART initiation increased from 2.8% in September 2016 to 7.1% in April 2018. In same-day patients, 33% (n = 11,114) were classified as LTFU with a median time of 55 days (IQR = 1 to 185), compared to 371 mean days (IQR = 161 to 560) in patients who initiated ≥22 days after diagnosis. A similar proportion of LTFU was observed for patients who initiated later: 31% 1 to 21 day and 33% ≥22 day. Same-day ART patients had an increased risk of LTFU vs. ≥1 day (adjusted hazard ratio (aHR) = 1.28, 95% CI = 1.24 to 1.33) adjusting for covariates. Although all-cause mortality was slightly lower in same-day patients (0.9%) vs. >1 day (1.4%; aHR = 0.87, 95% CI = 0.72 to 1.05) adjusting for covariates. Men had highest risk of mortality and LTFU.
Same-day ART increased the risk of LTFU, but same-day patients experienced slightly lower mortality. Same-day patients may require additional counselling and interventions to improve retention. Additional research is needed on targeted interventions, including differentiated care, to reduce LTFU in patients initiating ART same-day.