Evaluation of HIV treatment outcomes with reduced frequency of clinical encounters and antiretroviral treatment refills: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Noelle Le Tourneau, Ashley German, Ryan Thompson, Nathan Ford, Sheree Shwartz, Laura Beres, Aaloke Mody, Stefan Baral, Elvin H. Geng, Ingrid Eshun-Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background Global HIV treatment programs have sought to lengthen the interval between clinical encounters for people living with HIV (PLWH) who are established on antiretroviral treatment (ART) to reduce the burden of seeking care and to decongest health facilities. The overall effect of reduced visit frequency on HIV treatment outcomes is however unknown. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to evaluate the effect of implementation strategies that reduce the frequency of clinical appointments and ART refills for PLWH established on ART. Methods and findings We searched databases between 1 January 2010 and 9 November 2021 to identify randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and observational studies that compared reduced (6- to 12-monthly) clinical consultation or ART refill appointment frequency to 3- to 6-monthly appointments for patients established on ART. We assessed methodological quality and real-world relevance, and used Mantel–Haenszel methods to generate pooled risk ratios (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals for retention, viral suppression, and mortality. We evaluated heterogeneity quantitatively and qualitatively, and overall evidence certainty using GRADE. Searches yielded 3,955 records, resulting in 10 studies (6 RCTs, 3 observational studies, and 1 study contributing observational and RCT data) representing 15 intervention arms with 33,599 adults (≥16 years) in 8 sub-Saharan African countries. Reduced frequency clinical consultations occurred at health facilities, while reduced frequency ART refills were delivered through facility or community pharmacies and adherence groups. Studies were highly pragmatic, except for some study settings and resources used in RCTs. Among studiescomparing: reduced clinical consultation frequency (6- :::12-monthly) to 3-monthly :Ifnot; please consultations, there appeared to be no difference in retention (RR 1.01, 95% CI 0.97–1.04, p = 0.682, 8 studies, low certainty), and this finding was consistent across 6- and 12-monthly consultation intervals and delivery strategies. Viral suppression effect estimates were markedly influenced by under-ascertainment of viral load outcomes in intervention arms, resulting in inconclusive evidence (RR 0.74, 95% CI 0.59–0.94, p = 0.015, 4 RCTs, very low certainty). There was similarly insufficient evidence to draw conclusions on mortality (RR 1.12, 95% CI 0.75–1.66, p = 0.592, 6 studies, very low certainty). For ART refill frequency, there appeared to be little to no difference in retention (RR 1.01, 95% CI 0.98–1.06, p = 0.473, 4 RCTs, moderate certainty) or mortality (RR 1.45, 95% CI 0.63–3.35, p = 0.382, 4 RCTs, low certainty) between 6-monthly and 3-monthly visits. Similar toAU the:analysis Pleasecheckthewo for clinical consultations, no conclusions could be drawn on viral suppression (RR 0.60, 95% CI 0.41–0.88, p = 0.009, 3 RCTs, very low certainty). This systematic review was limited by the small number of studies available to compare 12- versus 6-monthly clinical consultations, insufficient data to compare implementation strategies, and lack of evidence for children, key populations, and low- and middle-income countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1003959
JournalPLoS medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022


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