Option B+ is promoted as a key component to eliminating vertical transmission of HIV; however, little is known about the policy’s impact on non-targeted populations, such as men and non-pregnant/non-breastfeeding women. We compare ART uptake among non-targeted populations during pre/post Option B+ periods in Zomba District, Malawi.
Individual-level ART registry data from 27 health facilities were digitized and new ART initiates were disaggregated by sex and type of initiate (Option B+ or not). Data were analyzed over the pre- (January 2009-June 2011) and post- (July 2011- December 2013) Option B+ periods.
After the implementation of Option B+, the total number of new female initiates increased significantly (quarterly median: 547 vs. 816; P = 0.001) and their median age decreased from 34 to 31 years (P = <0.001). Both changes were the result of the rapid and sustained uptake of ART among Option B+ clients. Post-policy, Option B+ clients represented 48% of all new female initiates while the number of females who initiated through CD4 or WHO staging criteria significantly decreased (quarterly median: 547 vs. 419; P = 0.005). The number and age of male initiates remained stable; however, the proportion of men among new initiates decreased (36% vs. 31%; P = <0.001).
Option B+ shifted the profile of first-time initiates towards younger and fertile women. Declines among non-Option B+ women most likely reflect earlier initiation during pregnancies before deteriorations in health. The decreased proportion of men among first-time initiates represents a growing gender disparity in HIV services that deserves immediate attention.