Open Access Research article

Nurse led, primary care based antiretroviral treatment versus hospital care: a controlled prospective study in Swaziland

Ciaran P Humphreys1*, John Wright2, John Walley3, Canaan T Mamvura4, Kerry A Bailey1, Sweetness N Ntshalintshali4, Robert M West3 and Aby Philip4

Author Affiliations

1 Public Health Wales, Carmarthen, UK

2 Bradford Institute for Health Research, Bradford Royal Infirmary, Leeds, UK

3 Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

4 Good Shepherd Hospital, Siteki, Swaziland

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:229  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-229

Published: 5 August 2010



Antiretroviral treatment services delivered in hospital settings in Africa increasingly lack capacity to meet demand and are difficult to access by patients. We evaluate the effectiveness of nurse led primary care based antiretroviral treatment by comparison with usual hospital care in a typical rural sub Saharan African setting.


We undertook a prospective, controlled evaluation of planned service change in Lubombo, Swaziland. Clinically stable adults with a CD4 count > 100 and on antiretroviral treatment for at least four weeks at the district hospital were assigned to either nurse led primary care based antiretroviral treatment care or usual hospital care. Assignment depended on the location of the nearest primary care clinic. The main outcome measures were clinic attendance and patient experience.


Those receiving primary care based treatment were less likely to miss an appointment compared with those continuing to receive hospital care (RR 0·37, p < 0·0001). Average travel cost was half that of those receiving hospital care (p = 0·001). Those receiving primary care based, nurse led care were more likely to be satisfied in the ability of staff to manage their condition (RR 1·23, p = 0·003). There was no significant difference in loss to follow-up or other health related outcomes in modified intention to treat analysis. Multilevel, multivariable regression identified little inter-cluster variation.


Clinic attendance and patient experience are better with nurse led primary care based antiretroviral treatment care than with hospital care; health related outcomes appear equally good. This evidence supports efforts of the WHO to scale-up universal access to antiretroviral treatment in sub Saharan Africa.