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An Augmented SMS Intervention to Improve Access to Antenatal CD4 Testing and ART Initiation in HIV-Infected Pregnant Women: A Cluster Randomized Trial
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    Background

    Less than one-third of HIV-infected pregnant women eligible for combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) globally initiate treatment prior to delivery, with lack of access to timely CD4 results being a principal barrier. We evaluated the effectiveness of an SMS-based intervention to improve access to timely antenatal ART.

    Methods

    We conducted a stepped-wedge cluster randomized trial of a low-cost programmatic intervention in 20 antenatal clinics in Gaborone, Botswana. From July 2011-April 2012, 2 clinics were randomly selected every 4 weeks to receive an ongoing clinic-based educational intervention to improve CD4 collection and to receive CD4 results via an automated SMS platform with active patient tracing. CD4 testing before 26 weeks gestation and ART initiation before 30 weeks gestation were assessed.

    Results

    Three-hundred-sixty-six ART-naïve women were included, 189 registering for antenatal care under Intervention and 177 under Usual Care periods. Of CD4-eligible women, 100 (59.2%) women under Intervention and 79 (50.6%) women under Usual Care completed CD4 phlebotomy before 26 weeks gestation, adjusted odds ratio (aOR, adjusted for time that a clinic initiated Intervention) 0.87 (95% confidence interval [CI]0.47–1.63, P = 0.67). The SMS-based platform reduced time to clinic receipt of CD4 test result from median of 16 to 6 days (P<0.001), was appreciated by clinic staff, and was associated with reduced operational cost. However, rates of ART initiation remained low, with 56 (36.4%) women registering under Intervention versus 37 (24.2%) women under Usual Care initiating ART prior to 30 weeks gestation, aOR 1.06 (95%CI 0.53–2.13, P = 0.87).

    Conclusions

    The augmented SMS-based intervention delivered CD4 results more rapidly and efficiently, and this type of SMS-based results delivery platform may be useful for a variety of tests and settings. However, the intervention did not appear to improve access to timely antenatal CD4 testing or ART initiation, as obstacles other than CD4 impeded ART initiation during pregnancy.

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