Low Rates of Engagement With HIV Care Among Women Who Have Recently Given Birth in Cape Town Townships

Michael Carter

Published: 18 August 2015

Only half of HIV-positive mothers in townships near Cape Town, South Africa, who received antenatal care and prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) services are receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) 36 months after giving birth, investigators report in the online edition of AIDS. The study involved 324 HIV-positive women. Almost all received PMTCT care but only a third were consistently linked to HIV care in the 36 months after giving birth, and only 53% were taking ART three years after the birth of their child. “These are disturbing data,” comment the investigators.

Between 26%-30% of pregnant women in Cape Town, South Africa, are HIV-positive. PMTCT services are generally integrated into antenatal care. However, after giving birth, mothers with HIV are required to establish links with routine HIV services.

South Africa is planning to implement the B+ protocol. This guarantees lifelong ART to all HIV-positive mothers. But research suggests that follow-up rates among HIV-positive mothers are poor. For instance, in Johannesburg, 30% of mothers were lost to HIV care in the first twelve months after giving birth.

Investigators therefore designed a study analyzing rates of re-engagement with HIV care in the 36 months after giving birth among mothers with HIV living in Cape Town townships.

Recruitment took place between May 2009 and September 2010. The expectant mothers were an average of 26 years old and were recruited during the 26th week of pregnancy. Approximately a fifth were employed and 56% were living with a partner. Most lived in informal housing, and although 90% had electricity in their homes, only 53% had running water and 55% sanitation. Half the women reported they’d gone hungry in the previous week. Two-thirds already had children.

At recruitment, 26% of women were already HIV-positive and 92% of participants learnt their HIV status for the first time while receiving antenatal care during this pregnancy.

Three years after giving birth, 13 mothers had died and 23 (6%) of their children were confirmed as HIV-positive.

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