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Female gender predicts lower access and adherence to antiretroviral therapy in a setting of free healthcare

Christine Tapp1, M-J Milloy1, Thomas Kerr1, Ruth Zhang1, Silvia Guillemi1, Robert S Hogg1, Julio Montaner1 and Evan Wood12*

Author Affiliations

1 British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, Canada

2 Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:86  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-11-86

Published: 6 April 2011



Barriers to HIV treatment among injection drug users (IDU) are a major public health concern. However, there remain few long-term studies investigating key demographic and behavioral factors - and gender differences in particular - that may pose barriers to antiretroviral therapy (ART), especially in settings with universal healthcare. We evaluated access and adherence to ART in a long-term cohort of HIV-positive IDU in a setting where medical care and antiretroviral therapy are provided free of charge through a universal healthcare system.


We evaluated baseline antiretroviral use and subsequent adherence to ART among a Canadian cohort of HIV-positive IDU. We used generalized estimating equation logistic regression to evaluate factors associated with 95% adherence to antiretroviral therapy estimated based on prescription refill compliance.


Between May 1996 and April 2008, 545 IDU participants were followed for a median of 23.8 months (Inter-quartile range: 8.5 - 91.6), among whom 341 (63%) were male and 204 (37%) were female. Within the six-month period prior to the baseline interview, 133 (39%) men and 62 (30%) women were on ART (p = 0.042). After adjusting for clinical characteristics as well as drug use patterns measured longitudinally throughout follow-up, female gender was independently associated with a lower likelihood of being 95% adherent to ART (Odds Ratio [OR] = 0.70; 95% Confidence Interval: 0.53-0.93).


Despite universal access to free HIV treatment and medical care, female IDU were less likely to access and adhere to antiretroviral therapy, a finding that was independent of drug use and clinical characteristics. These data suggest that interventions to improve access to HIV treatment among IDU must be tailored to address unique barriers to antiretroviral therapy faced by female IDU.