Open Access Research article

Influences on visit retention in clinical trials: Insights from qualitative research during the VOICE trial in Johannesburg, South Africa

Busisiwe Magazi1, Jonathan Stadler1*, Sinead Delany-Moretlwe1, Elizabeth Montgomery2, Florence Mathebula1, Miriam Hartmann2 and Ariane van der Straten23

Author Affiliations

1 Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, PO Box 18512, Johannesburg, South Africa

2 Women’s Global Health Imperative, RTI, San Francisco, CA, USA

3 Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, Department of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA

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BMC Women's Health 2014, 14:88  doi:10.1186/1472-6874-14-88

Published: 28 July 2014



Although significant progress has been made in clinical trials of women-controlled methods of HIV prevention such as microbicides and Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), low adherence to experimental study products remains a major obstacle to being able to establish their efficacy in preventing HIV infection. One factor that influences adherence is the ability of trial participants to attend regular clinic visits at which trial products are dispensed, adherence counseling is administered, and participant safety is monitored. We conducted a qualitative study of the social contextual factors that influenced adherence in the VOICE (MTN-003) trial in Johannesburg, South Africa, focusing on study participation in general, and study visits in particular.


The research used qualitative methodologies, including in-depth interviews (IDI), serial ethnographic interviews (EI), and focus group discussions (FGD) among a random sub-sample of 102 female trial participants, 18 to 40 years of age. A socio-ecological framework that explored those factors that shaped trial participation and adherence to study products, guided the analysis. Key codes were developed to standardize subsequent coding and a node search was used to identify texts relating to obstacles to visit adherence. Our analysis includes coded transcripts from seven FGD (N = 40), 41 IDI, and 64 serial EI (N = 21 women).


Women’s kinship, social, and economic roles shaped their ability to participate in the clinical trial. Although participants expressed strong commitments to attend study visits, clinic visit schedules and lengthy waiting times interfered with their multiple obligations as care givers, wage earners, housekeepers, and students.


The research findings highlight the importance of the social context in shaping participation in HIV prevention trials, beyond focusing solely on individual characteristics. This points to the need to focus interventions to improve visit attendance by promoting a culture of active and engaged participation.

HIV prevention; PrEP; Microbicides; Visit retention; South Africa