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Open Access Research article

Measuring adherence to antiretroviral treatment in resource-poor settings: The feasibility of collecting routine data for key indicators

John C Chalker1*, Tenaw Andualem2, Lillian N Gitau3, Joseph Ntaganira4, Celestino Obua5, Hailu Tadeg2, Paul Waako5, Dennis Ross-Degnan6 and INRUD-IAA7

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Pharmaceutical Management, Management Sciences for Health, Arlington Virginia, USA

2 Management Sciences for Health, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

3 Management Sciences for Health/INRUD, Nairobi, Kenya

4 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health, National University of Rwanda

5 Department Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Makerere University Medical School, Kampala, Uganda

6 Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Boston, MA, USA

7 The International Network for the Rational Use of Drugs Initiative on Adherence to Antiretrovirals, Arlington, VA 22203, USA

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:43  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-43

Published: 19 February 2010



An East African survey showed that among the few health facilities that measured adherence to antiretroviral therapy, practices and definitions varied widely. We evaluated the feasibility of collecting routine data to standardize adherence measurement using a draft set of indicators.


Targeting 20 facilities each in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, in each facility we interviewed up to 30 patients, examined 100 patient records, and interviewed staff.


In 78 facilities, we interviewed a total of 1,631 patients and reviewed 8,282 records. Difficulties in retrieving records prevented data collection in two facilities. Overall, 94.2% of patients reported perfect adherence; dispensed medicine covered 91.1% of days in a six month retrospective period; 13.7% of patients had a gap of more than 30 days in their dispensed medication; 75.8% of patients attended clinic on or before the date of their next appointment; and 87.1% of patients attended within 3 days.

In each of the four countries, the facility-specific median indicators ranged from: 97%-100% for perfect self-reported adherence, 90%-95% of days covered by dispensed medicines, 2%-19% of patients with treatment gaps of 30 days or more, and 72%-91% of appointments attended on time. Individual facilities varied considerably.

The percentages of days covered by dispensed medicine, patients with more than 95% of days covered, and patients with a gap of 30 days or more were all significantly correlated with the percentages of patients who attended their appointments on time, within 3 days, or within 30 days of their appointment. Self reported recent adherence in exit interviews was significantly correlated only with the percentage of patients who attended within 3 days of their appointment.


Field tests showed that data to measure adherence can be collected systematically from health facilities in resource-poor settings. The clinical validity of these indicators is assessed in a companion article. Most patients and facilities showed high levels of adherence; however, poor levels of performance in some facilities provide a target for quality improvement efforts.