Reasons for missing antiretroviral therapy: Results from a multi-country study in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia

Olivier Koole, Julie A. Denison, Joris Menten, Sharon Tsui, Fred Wabwire-Mangen, Gideon Kwesigabo, Modest Mulenga, Andrew Auld, Simon Agolory, Ya Diul Mukadi, Eric Van Praag, Kwasi Torpey, Seymour Williams, Jonathan Kaplan, Aaron Zee, David R. Bangsberg, Robert Colebunders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Objectives To identify the reasons patients miss taking their antiretroviral therapy (ART) and the proportion who miss their ART because of symptoms; and to explore the association between symptoms and incomplete adherence. Methods Secondary analysis of data collected during a cross-sectional study that examined ART adherence among adults from 18 purposefully selected sites in Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. We interviewed 250 systematically selected patients per facility (≥18 years) on reasons for missing ART and symptoms they had experienced (using the HIV Symptom Index). We abstracted clinical data from the patients' medical, pharmacy, and laboratory records. Incomplete adherence was defined as having missed ART for at least 48 consecutive hours during the past 3 months. Results Twenty-nine percent of participants reported at least one reason for having ever missed ART (1278/4425). The most frequent reason was simply forgetting (681/1278 or 53%), followed by ART-related hunger or not having enough food (30%), and symptoms (12%). The median number of symptoms reported by participants was 4 (IQR: 2-7). Every additional symptom increased the odds of incomplete adherence by 12% (OR: 1.1, 95% CI: 1.1-1.2). Female participants and participants initiated on a regimen containing stavudine were more likely to report greater numbers of symptoms. Conclusions Symptoms were a common reason for missing ART, together with simply forgetting and food insecurity. A combination of ART regimens with fewer side effects, use of mobile phone text message reminders, and integration of food supplementation and livelihood programmes into HIV programmes, have the potential to decrease missed ART and hence to improve adherence and the outcomes of ART programmes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0147309
JournalPloS one
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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