Effective linkage from point of HIV testing to care and treatment in Tanga region, Tanzania

Background

Linkage to care and treatment is an important part of efforts to accelerate HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support. It offers an opportunity for PLHIV to receive information and services in a timely manner. Clients who present late for HIV care and treatment may miss out on timely initiation of prophylaxis and ART, which may accelerate disease progression and lead to an increased rate of HIV transmission within the community. The objective of this study was to determine the factors influencing effective linkages of newly diagnosed PLHIV from the point of testing to entry in care and treatment centres (CTCs) in Tanga Region, Tanzania.

Methods

This cross-sectional study examined five clinics with a high volume of clients in each of the three districts in Tanga Region. All adults ages 18 years and above at the time of CTC enrolment, between 2010 and 2014, were eligible to participate in the study.

The study engaged both secondary and primary data. To complement the secondary data, mixed methods were applied in primary data collection. Using a structured questionnaire, interviews with the sampled CTC clients while focus group discussions with healthcare providers and in-depth interviews with CTC clients.

The qualitative data were analysed using a thematic analysis framework. The outcome of interest was whether a client enrolled in a CTC within three months of his or her first positive HIV test. A logistic regression model was used to determine factors associated with effective linkage of newly diagnosed HIV clients to CTC.

Results

A total of 16,041 adults from the three study districts were enrolled at a CTC from 2010 to 2014. A total of 1,096 clients from the sampled CTCs were recruited into the study for interview. The characteristics of these clients were representative of the larger group (16,041). The majority (72.4%) were female. More than half (52.1%) were married, and almost a quarter (21.2%) were single. The majority (59.6%) of participants completed primary education and almost half (45.1%) were subsistence farmers. The median CD4 count at enrolment was 218 (87–397) cells/mL with more than half (56.3%) having CD4 counts of less than 350 cells per millilitre (mL). Nearly all (91%) of the clients presented at a CTC within three months of receiving a positive HIV test. In a multivariate analysis, factors that remained significantly associated with early entry in CTC were level of education, CD4 count, and point of diagnosis. Participants’ responses were consistent with many of the factors explained by participants to be barriers to effective linkages and referrals repeated in the FGDs and IDIs across the study sites. For instance, FGD respondent expressed that clients were worried about stigma from their relatives, which creates a delay in seeking treatment.

Conclusion

Although the rate of early entry in care and treatment services is high, surprisingly was a marked increase in those who waited more than three months to seek treatment. To meet the target, issues such as disclosure and stigma need to be addressed.