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Background: Timely linkage to care following an HIV diagnosis is critical for people living with HIV to initiate antiretroviral treatment as early as possible and thus decrease the risks of HIV-related morbidity, mortality and HIV transmission. Linkage to HIV care is however often challenging and innovative strategies are required to help people accessing HIV care. We aimed at evaluating the effect of phone calls and home visits following an initial referral on time to linkage to care in the context of a Universal HIV Testing and Treatment (UTT) trial in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Methods: The ANRS 12249 TasP trial was conducted from March 2012 to June 2016 with the aim to evaluate the effect of UTT on HIV incidence. Individuals ≥16 years were offered home-based HIV testing; those identified HIV-positive were referred to nearby TasP trial clinics to receive care and treatment. Starting April 2013, an enhancement strategy combining phone calls and home visits was implemented to re-refer people who did not link to care within three months of first referral. Effect of this strategy on time to linkage to care was studied as a time-varying variable among individuals not in care at first referral using a Cox regression model censored for death, migration and end of study observation.
Results: Among the 7,643 individuals identified HIV-positive at home and referred to TasP clinics, 2,254 (72% female) were not in care at referral and did not link to care within three months of first referral. Among them, 451 (20%) individuals were contacted through phone calls or home visits before migration or death. Probability of linkage to care was significantly higher among individuals re-referred to care compared to those not re-referred (Hazard Ratio 2.25; 95% Confidence Interval 1.83-2.78); significant positive effects were also observed for both genders and all age categories (< 30; 30-39; 40-49; ≥50 years old) after stratification.
Conclusions: Phone calls and home visits aiming at re-referring people to HIV care appear effective in improving linkage to care. Patient-centered strategies should be part of UTT programs in order to achieve the 90-90-90 UNAIDS targets.