Provision of HIV viral load testing services in Zimbabwe: Secondary data analyses using data from health facilities using the electronic Patient Monitoring System

Tsitsi Apollo, Kudakwashe C Takarinda, Andrew Phillips, Chiratidzo Ndhlovu, Frances M Cowan
PloS One 2021, 16 (1): e0245720

INTRODUCTION: Routine viral load (VL) testing among persons living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (PLHIV) enables earlier detection of sub-optimal antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence and for appropriate management of treatment failure. Since adoption of this policy by Zimbabwe in 2016, the extent of implementation is unclear. Therefore we set out to determine among PLHIV ever enrolled on ART from 2004-2017 and in ART care for ≥12 months at health facilities providing ART in Zimbabwe: numbers (proportions) with VL testing uptake, VL suppression and subsequently switched to 2nd-line ART following confirmed virologic failure.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: We used retrospective data from the electronic Patient Monitoring System (ePMS) in which PLHIV on ART are registered at 525 public and 4 private health facilities.

RESULTS: Among the 392,832 PLHIV in ART care for ≥12 months, 99,721 (25.4%) had an initial VL test done and results available of whom 81,932 (82%) were virally suppressed. Among those with a VL>1000 copies/mL; 6,689 (37.2%) had a follow-up VL test and 4,086 (61%) had unsuppressed VLs of whom only 1,749 (42.8%) were switched to 2nd-line ART. Lower age particularly adolescents (10-19 years) were more likely (ARR 1.34; 95%CI: 1.25-1.44) to have virologic failure.

CONCLUSION: The study findings provide insights to implementation gaps including limitations in VL testing; low identification of high- risk PLHIV in care and lack of prompt utilization of test results. The use of electronic patient-level data has demonstrated its usefulness in assessing the performance of the national VL testing program. By end of 2017 implementation of VL testing was sub-optimal, and virological failure was relatively common, particularly among adolescents. Of concern is evidence of failure to act on VL test results that were received. A quality improvement initiative has been planned in response to these findings and its effect on patient management will be monitored.

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