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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Adherence to antiretroviral therapy among HIV infected children measured by caretaker report, medication return, and drug level in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Frida William Mghamba1*, Omary MS Minzi2, Augustine Massawe3 and Philip Sasi1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, School of Medicine, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, P.O. BOX 65001, Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania

2 Unit of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Pharmacy, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, P.O. BOX 65013, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

3 Department of Clinical Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, P.O. BOX 65010, Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania

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BMC Pediatrics 2013, 13:95  doi:10.1186/1471-2431-13-95

Published: 15 June 2013



Adherence to antiretroviral drugs in the treatment of paediatric HIV infection is complicated because of many factors including stigma and drug intake logistics. It is therefore important to identify children with non-adherence in order to intervene before they become at risk of developing treatment failure or drug resistance. The aim of this study was to determine the level of adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART), measured by caretaker report, medication return and nevirapine plasma concentration. In addition, the association between level of adherence and patient’s immune status was compared across the three methods of measuring adherence.


This was a descriptive cross-sectional study involving HIV infected children aged 2–14 years, on nevirapine- based antiretroviral treatment for at least six months, attending care and treatment clinic in three municipal hospitals in Dar- Es- Salaam City. Eligible patients and their accompanying caretakers were consecutively enrolled after obtaining written informed consent. Structured questionnaires were administered to caretakers to assess patient’s adherence by caretaker report and medication return whereas a single blood sample for CD4 cell count/percent and determination of nevirapine plasma concentration was taken from patients on the day of assessment.


A total of 300 patients and accompanying caretakers were enrolled and the mean patient age (SD) was 8 (3) years. Caretakers’ report and medication return showed good adherence (98% and 97%) respectively. However, the level of adherence assessed by nevirapine plasma concentration (85%) was significantly lower than caretaker report and medication return (p < 0.001). The agreement between nevirapine plasma concentration and medication return and between nevirapine plasma concentration and caretaker report was weak (k = 0. 131) (k = 0. 09) respectively. Nevirapine plasma concentration below 3 μg/ml was associated with immunosuppression (p = 0. 021) whereas medication return (>5% of prescribed doses) and caretaker reported missing more than one dose within 72 hours prior to interview were not associated with immunosuppression (p = 0. 474), (p = 0. 569) respectively.


Lower adherence level observed using nevirapine plasma concentration and its association with immunological response supports the validity of the method and indicates that adherence data obtained from caretaker report and medication return may overestimate the true adherence in paediatric antiretroviral therapy.