This past November, representatives of the Zambian Ministry of Health, CIDRZ, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the University of California, San Francisco met with a diverse range of local stakeholders in Lusaka for the national dissemination of the preliminary results of the Better Information for Health in Zambia study – known locally as “BetterInfo”.
The study was conducted by CIDRZ with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in and was conducted in collaboration with the Zambian Ministry of Health. The BetterInfo study sought to ascertain the outcome among a representative sample of lost-to-follow-up HIV care and treatment patients to estimate the population level estimates of mortality and retention in the National HIV Care and Treatment programme. In addition, the study critically examined why some patients enrolled in Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) care decide to stay in care, while some decide to silently transfer themselves to a different clinic, or to completely disengage from life-saving ART care.
At the national dissemination meeting which took place on 30 November 2016, Ministry of Health Director of Clinical Care and Diagnostic Services, Dr Gardner Syakantu emphasised the importance of the BetterInfo research findings to address gaps in local health service delivery when he said,“despite improved and highly successful programmatic coverage with ART, significant numbers of adults drop out of care at various points along the treatment pathway and thus treatment gains fail to reach sufficient numbers of HIV patients. It is essential to understand how and why patients drop out of treatment programmes, since retention of people on ART, and ensuring adherence to treatment, are both critical determinants of successful long-term health outcomes.”
Speaking at the event, Dr Izukanji Sikazwe of CIDRZ, one of the three Principal Investigators of the BetterInfo study said, “understanding the true outcomes of patients in ART care has become increasingly critical to guide decision-making. Knowing this will allow for better assessment of our public health systems and programme efficiencies, and enable us to strengthen programmes by identifying potential interventions to improve patient retention in HIV care. Long-term regular follow-up of ART patients is an important component of comprehensive and effective HIV care. Patients who are lost-to-follow-up while on ART compromise their own health and the long-term success of the national programme.”
The other Principal Investigators for the BetterInfo study were infectious disease and public health specialists, Dr Elvin Geng from the University of California, San Francisco and Dr Charles Holmes, faculty member of Johns Hopkins University.
During the month of December the study team disseminated the preliminary results of the study to the staff at the District sites that were involved. The final results of BetterInfo are expected to be released in 2017.