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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Delays in starting antiretroviral therapy in patients with HIV-associated tuberculosis accessing non-integrated clinical services in a South African township

Stephen D Lawn12*, Lucy Campbell34, Richard Kaplan1, Francesca Little3, Carl Morrow1, Robin Wood1 and IeDEA-Southern Africa

Author Affiliations

1 The Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Institute for Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Department of Clinical Research, Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, London, UK

3 Department of Statistical Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Cape Town, South Africa

4 School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:258  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-258

Published: 30 September 2011

Abstract

Background

Delays in the initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in patients with HIV-associated tuberculosis (TB) are associated with increased mortality risk. We examined the timing of ART among patients receiving care provided by non-integrated TB and ART services in Cape Town, South Africa.

Methods

In an observational cohort study, we determined the overall time delay between starting treatment for TB and starting ART in patients treated in Gugulethu township between 2002 and 2008. For patients referred from TB clinics to the separate ART clinic, we quantified and identified risk factors associated with the two component delays between starting TB treatment, enrolment in the ART clinic and subsequent initiation of ART.

Results

Among 893 TB patients studied (median CD4 count, 81 cells/μL), the delay between starting TB treatment and starting ART was prolonged (median, 95 days; IQR = 49-155). Delays were shorter in more recent calendar periods and among those with lower CD4 cell counts. However, the median delay was almost three-fold longer for patients referred from separate TB clinics compared to patients whose TB was diagnosed in the ART clinic (116 days versus 41 days, respectively; P < 0.001). In the most recent calendar period, the proportions of patients with CD4 cell counts < 50 cells/μL who started ART within 4 weeks of TB diagnosis were 11.1% for patients referred from TB clinics compared to 54.6% of patients with TB diagnosed in the ART service (P < 0.001).

Conclusions

Delays in starting ART were prolonged, especially for patients referred from separate TB clinics. Non-integration of TB and ART services is likely to be a substantial obstacle to timely initiation of ART.