Journal Article

Cell phone counseling improves retention of mothers with HIV infection in care and infant HIV testing in Kisumu, Kenya: A randomized controlled study

Background
We evaluated the effectiveness of a cell phone counseling intervention to promote retention in care and HIV testing of infants among women with HIV accessing prevention of mother-to-child services in Kisumu, Kenya.

Methods
Between May 2013 and September 2015, we recruited 404 pregnant women with HIV who were between 14 and 36 weeks of gestation and randomly assigned them to the intervention (n=207) or control arm (n=197). Retention was assessed at delivery and at 6 and 14 weeks postpartum. We also measured uptake of infant HIV testing. The intervention comprised a fixed protocol of counselor-delivered phone calls to provide one-to-one need-based support. The number of calls made varied depending on when participants presented for antenatal care services; the maximum number was 42. The control group received routine care. We evaluated retention at 3 time points using the complementary log-log regression model taking into account factors associated with retention and loss to follow-up time. We calculated the incidence rate for HIV transmission among infants and used binary logistic regression to identify predictors of HIV infection among infants.

Results
Participants attended on average 63% of the required number of counseling calls during the study period. Retention was higher in the intervention arm than the control arm at delivery (95.2% vs. 77.7%, respectively); 6 weeks postpartum (93.9% vs. 72.9%, respectively); and 14 weeks postpartum (83.3% vs. 66.5%, respectively) (P<.001). The counseling intervention (hazard ratio [HR]=0.29; 95% confidence interval [CI]=0.12, 0.69) and positive health perceptions (HR=0.99; 95% CI=0.98, 1.00) were associated with lower hazards of being lost to follow-up. HIV testing of infants was higher in the intervention than control arm (93% vs. 68%, respectively; P<.001). In total, 9 of 308 (2.9%) infants tested positive for HIV infection (incidence rate=0.39 infections/100 infant-weeks). Medication Possession Ratio (MPR) >90%, used to assess adherence to ART, was associated with lower odds of a positive HIV test among infants (adjusted odds ratio=0.20; 95% CI=0.04, 0.99). Attendance at antenatal and postnatal care visits was higher among participants in the intervention arm than the control arm.

Conclusions
The one-on-one tailored counseling delivered via cell phone was effective in retaining mothers with HIV infection in care and promoting uptake of infant HIV testing and antenatal and postnatal care services. Phone counseling offers a practical approach to reach and retain pregnant women with HIV infection and postpartum mothers in care, but greater emphasis on collection of medications and adherence is required.