Attrition threatens the success of antiretroviral therapy (ART). In this cohort study, we examined outcomes of people living with human immunodeficiency virus (PLHIV) who were lost to follow-up (LTFU) during 2014–2017 at ART programs in Southern Africa.
We confirmed LTFU (missed appointment for ≥60 or ≥90 days, according to local guidelines) by checking medical records and used a standardized protocol to trace a weighted random sample of PLHIV who were LTFU in 8 ART programs in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, 2017–2019. We ascertained vital status and identified predictors of mortality using logistic regression, adjusted for sex, age, time on ART, time since LTFU, travel time, and urban or rural setting.
Among 3256 PLHIV, 385 (12%) were wrongly categorized as LTFU and 577 (17%) had missing contact details. We traced 2294 PLHIV (71%) by phone calls, home visits, or both: 768 (34% of 2294) were alive and in care, including 385 (17%) silent transfers to another clinic; 528 (23%) were alive without care or unknown care; 252 (11%) had died. Overall, the status of 1323 (41%m of 3256) PLHIV remained unknown. Mortality was higher in men than women, higher in children than in young people or adults, and higher in PLHIV who had been on ART <1 year or LTFU ≥1 year and those living farther from the clinic or in rural areas. Results were heterogeneous across sites.
Our study highlights the urgent need for better medical record systems at HIV clinics and rapid tracing of PLHIV who are LTFU.