Acceptability of point-of-care viral load testing to facilitate differentiated care: a qualitative assessment of people living with HIV and nurses in South Africa
Msimango L., Gibbs A., Shozi H., Ngobese H., Humphries H., Drain PK., Garrett N., Dorward J.
Background: Providing viral load (VL) results to people living with HIV (PLHIV) on antiretroviral therapy (ART) remains a challenge in low and middle-income countries. Point-of-care (POC) VL testing could improve ART monitoring and the quality and efficiency of differentiated models of HIV care. We assessed the acceptability of POC VL testing within a differentiated care model that involved task-shifting from professional nurses to less highly-trained enrolled nurses, and an option of collecting treatment from a community-based ART delivery programme. Methods: We undertook a qualitative sub-study amongst clients on ART and nurses within the STREAM study, a randomized controlled trial of POC VL testing and task-shifting in Durban, South Africa. Between March and August 2018, we conducted 33 semi-structured interviews with clients, professional and enrolled nurses and 4 focus group discussions with clients. Interviews and focus groups were audio recorded, transcribed, translated and thematically analysed. Results: Amongst 55 clients on ART (median age 31, 56% women) and 8 nurses (median age 39, 75% women), POC VL testing and task-shifting to enrolled nurses was acceptable. Both clients and providers reported that POC VL testing yielded practical benefits for PLHIV by reducing the number of clinic visits, saving time, travel costs and days off work. Receiving same-day POC VL results encouraged adherence amongst clients, by enabling them to see immediately if they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ adherers and enabled quick referrals to a community-based ART delivery programme for those with viral suppression. However, there was some concern regarding the impact of POC VL testing on clinic flows when implemented in busy public-sector clinics. Regarding task-shifting, nurses felt that, with extra training, enrolled nurses could help decongest healthcare facilities by quickly issuing ART to stable clients. Clients could not easily distinguish enrolled nurses from professional nurses, instead they highlighted the importance of friendliness, respect and good communication between clients and nurses. Conclusions: POC VL testing combined with task-shifting was acceptable to clients and healthcare providers. Implementation of POC VL testing and task shifting within differentiated care models may help achieve international treatment targets. Trial registration: NCT03066128, registered 22/02/2017.