Decreasing time to antiretroviral therapy initiation after HIV diagnosis in a clinic-based observational cohort study in four African countries

for the AFRICOS Study Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Introduction: World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines have shifted over time to recommend earlier initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) and now encourage ART initiation on the day of HIV diagnosis, if possible. However, barriers to ART access may delay initiation in resource-limited settings. We characterized temporal trends and other factors influencing the interval between HIV diagnosis and ART initiation among participants enrolled in a clinic-based cohort across four African countries. Methods: The African Cohort Study enrols adults engaged in care at 12 sites in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Nigeria. Participants provide a medical history, complete a physical examination and undergo laboratory assessments every six months. Participants with recorded dates of HIV diagnosis were categorized by WHO guideline era (<2006, 2006 to 2009, 2010 to 2012, 2013 to 2015, ≥2016) at the time of diagnosis. Cox proportional hazard modelling was used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CI) for time to ART initiation. Results and discussion: From January 2013 to September 2019, a total of 2888 adults living with HIV enrolled with known diagnosis dates. Median time to ART initiation decreased from 22.0 months (interquartile range (IQR) 4.0 to 77.3) among participants diagnosed prior to 2006 to 0.5 months (IQR 0.2 to 1.8) among those diagnosed in 2016 and later. Comparing those same periods, CD4 nadir increased from a median of 166 cells/mm3 (IQR: 81 to 286) to 298 cells/mm3 (IQR: 151 to 501). In the final adjusted model, participants diagnosed in each subsequent WHO guideline era had increased rates of ART initiation compared to those diagnosed before 2006. CD4 nadir ≥500 cells/mm3 was independently associated with a lower rate of ART initiation as compared to CD4 nadir <200 cells/mm3 (HR: 0.32; 95% CI: 0.28 to 0.37). Age >50 years at diagnosis was independently associated with shorter time to ART initiation as compared to 18 to 29 years (HR: 1.38; 95% CI: 1.19 to 1.61). Conclusions: Consistent with changing guidelines, the interval between diagnosis and ART initiation has decreased over time. Still, many adults living with HIV initiated treatment with low CD4, highlighting the need to diagnose HIV earlier while improving access to immediate ART after diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere25446
JournalJournal of the International AIDS Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • Africa
  • CD4 lymphocyte count
  • HIV-1
  • antiretroviral therapy
  • highly active
  • time-to-treatment
  • treatment initiation


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