In 2002, Cameroon initiated scale up of antiretroviral therapy (ART); on 1 October 2004, a substantial reduction in ART cost occurred. We assessed the impact of this event and other factors on enrolment and retention in care among HIV-infected patients initiating ART from February 2002 to December 2005 at the single ART clinic serving the Southwest Region in Limbe, Cameroon.
We retrospectively analyzed clinical and pharmacy payment records of HIV-infected patients initiating ART according to national guidelines. We compared two cohorts of patients, enrolled before and after 1 October 2004, to determine if price reduction was associated with enhanced enrolment. We assessed factors associated with retention and survival by Cox proportional hazards models. Retention in care implied patients who had contact with the healthcare system as of 31 December 2005 (including those who were transferred to continue care in other ART centres), although these patients may have interrupted therapy at some time. A patient who was not retained in care may have dropped out (lost to follow up) or died.
Mean enrolment rates for 2920 patients who initiated ART before and after the price reduction were 46.5 and 95.5 persons/month, respectively (p < 0.001). The probabilities of remaining alive and in care were 0.66 (95% CI 0.64-0.68) at six months, 0.58 (95% CI 0.56-0.60) at one year, 0.47 (95% CI 0.45-0.49) at two years and 0.35 (95% CI 0.32-0.38) at three years; they were not significantly different between the two cohorts of patients enrolled before and after the price reduction over the first 15 months of comparable follow up (hazard ratio 1.1; 95% CI 0.9-1.2, p = 0.27). In multivariable analysis using multiple imputations to compensate for missing values, factors associated with dropping out of care or dying were male gender (HR 1.33 [1.18-1.50], p = 0.003), treatment paid by self, family or partly by other (HR 3.05 [1.99-4.67], p < 0.001), and, compared with residents of Limbe, living more than 150 km from Limbe (HR 1.41 [1.18-1.69], p < 0.001), or being residents of Douala (HR 1.51 [1.16-1.98], p < 0.001).
Reducing the cost of ART increased enrolment of clients in the programme, but did not change retention in care. In a system where most clients pay for ART, an accessible clinic location may be more important than the cost of medication for retention in care. Decentralizing ART clinics might improve retention and survival among patients on ART.